(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "CMH Pub 7-9-1 The Last Offensive"

The Last 

Ojfensiv 




1-1. 



QJbarles B J «Mg0HI 



if 



UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II 



The European Theater of Operations 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



By 

Charles B. MacDonald 




CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY 
UNITED STATES ARMY 
WASHINGTON, D.C., 1993 



Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 71-183070 



First Printed 1973 — CMH Pub 7-9-1 



For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office 
Washington, D.C. 20402 



UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II 



Maurice Matloff, General Editor 



Walter C. Langsam 
University of Cincinnati 

Edward M. Coffman 
University of Wisconsin 



Advisory Committee 
(As of 1 February 1972) 

Maj. Gen. Edward Bautz, Jr. 
United States Continental Army Command 

Brig. Gen. James M. Gibson 
United States Army Command and 
General Staff College 



Louis Morton 
Dartmouth College 



Brig. Gen. Wallace C. Magathan, Jr. 
United States Army War College 



Peter Paret 
Stanford University 



Col. Thomas E. Griess 
United States Military Academy 



Forrest C. Pogue 
George C. Marshall 
Research Foundation 



Frank E. Vandiver 
Rice University 



Office of the Chief of Military History 
Brig. Gen. James L. Collins, Jr., Chief of Military History 

Chief Historian Maurice Matloff 

Chief, Historical Services Division Col. Robert H. Fechtman 

Chief, Histories Division Col. John E. Jessup, Jr. 

Editor in Chief Joseph R. Friedman 



iii 



. . . to Those Who Served 



Foreword 



Recovering rapidly from the shock of German counteroffensives in the 
Ardennes and Alsace, Allied armies early in January 1945 began an offen- 
sive that gradually spread all along the line from the North Sea to Switzer- 
land and continued until the German armies and the German nation were 
prostrate in defeat. This volume tells the story of that offensive, one which 
eventually involved more than four and a half million troops, including ninety- 
one divisions, sixty-one of which were American. 

The focus of the volume is on the role of the American armies — First, 
Third, Seventh, Ninth, and, to a lesser extent, Fifteenth — which comprised 
the largest and most powerful military force the United States has ever put 
in the field. The role of Allied armies — First Canadian, First French, and 
Second British — is recounted in sufficient detail to put the role of American 
armies in perspective, as is the story of tactical air forces in support of the 
ground troops. 

This is the ninth volume in a subseries often designed to record the his- 
tory of the United States Army in the European Theater of Operations. One 
volume, The Riviera to the Rhine, remains to be published. 



Washington, D.C. 
5 June 1972 



JAMES L. COLLINS, JR. 
Brigadier General, USA 
Chief of Military History 



vn 



The Author 



Charles B. MacDonald is the author of The Siegfried Line Campaign 
and co-author of Three Battles: Arnaville, Altuzzo, and Schmidt, both in 
the official series UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II. He has 
supervised the preparation of other volumes in the European and Mediter- 
ranean theater subseries and is a contributor to Command Decisions and 
American Military History. He is also the author of Company Commander 
(Washington: 1947) , The Battle of the Huertgen Forest (Philadelphia: 
1963), The Mighty Endeavor (New York: 1969), and Airborne (New 
York: 1970) . A graduate of Presbyterian College, he also holds the Litt.D.- 
degree from that institution. In 1957 he received a Secretary of the Army 
Research and Study Fellowship and spent a year studying the interrelation- 
ship of terrain, weapons, and tactics on European battlefields. A colonel in 
the Army Reserve, he holds the Purple Heart and Silver Star. As Deputy 
Chief Historian for Southeast Asia, he is currently engaged in preparing 
the official history of the United States Army in Vietnam. 



viii 



Preface 



The American armies that absorbed the shock of the German counter- 
offensives in the Ardennes and Alsace in the winter of 1944^15 were the 
most powerful and professional that the United States had yet put in the 
field. That this was the case was abundantly demonstrated as the final cam- 
paign to reduce Nazi Germany to total defeat unfolded. 

The campaign was remarkably varied. As it gathered momentum in 
the snows of the Ardennes and the mud and pillboxes of the West Wall, 
the fighting was often as bitter as any that had gone before among the 
hedgerows of Normandy and the hills and forests of the German frontier. 
Yet the defense which the Germans were still able to muster following the 
futile expenditure of lives and means in the counteroffensives was brittle. 
The campaign soon evolved into massive sweeps by powerful Allied col- 
umns across the width and breadth of Germany. That the Germans could 
continue to resist for more than two months in the face of such overwhelm- 
ing power was a testament to their pertinacity but it was a grim tragedy as 
well. To such an extent had they subjugated themselves to their Nazi leaders 
that they were incapable of surrender at a time when defeat was inevitable 
and surrender would have spared countless lives on both sides. 

It was a dramatic campaign: the sweep of four powerful U.S. armies to 
the Rhine; the exhilarating capture of a bridge at Remagen; assault cross- 
ings of the storied Rhine River, including a spectacular airborne assault; 
an ill-fated armored raid beyond Allied lines; the trapping of masses of 
Germans in a giant pocket in the Ruhr industrial region; the uncovering 
of incredible horror in German concentration camps; a dashing thrust to 
the Elbe River; juncture with the Russians; and a Wagnerian climax played 
to the accompaniment of Russian artillery fire in the Fuehrer bunker in 
Berlin. 

This volume is chronologically the final work in the European theater 
subseries of the UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II. In point 
of time, it follows The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, previously published, 
and The Riviera to the Rhine, still in preparation. 

Even more than most of the volumes in the official history, this one is 
the work of many people. The author is particularly indebted to two his- 
torians who earlier worked on the project: Gordon A. Harrison, author of 
Cross-Channel Attack, whose felicity of phrase may still be apparent in 
some of the early chapters, and Fred J. Meyer, who prepared a preliminary 



ix 



draft of the entire work. The volume as it stands owes much to their con- 
tributions. Mrs. Magna E. Bauer prepared a number of detailed and valua- 
ble studies on the German side. As always, Mrs. Lois Aldridge of the World 
War II Records Division, National Archives and Records Service, displayed 
remarkable patience in assisting the author's exploration of mountains of 
records. More than forty senior American officers, including Generals of the 
Army Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar N. Bradley, Generals Jacob L. 
Devers and William H. Simpson, and four senior German officers, includ- 
ing General Hasso von Manteuffel, gave generously of their time in reading 
and commenting on all or parts of the manuscript. Assistance was also re- 
ceived from the Cabinet Office Historical Section, London; the Directorate 
of History, Canadian Forces Headquarters, Ottawa; and the Militaerge- 
schichtliches Forschungsamt, Freiburg. 

Within the editorial staff, I am particularly grateful for the assistance 
of Mrs. Loretto C. Stevens; the copy editors were Mrs. Stephanie B. Demma, 
Mr. Alfred M. Beck, and Mrs. Joyce W. Hardyman. Mr. Elliot Dunay and 
his staff, Mr. Howell C. Brewer and Mr. Roger D. Clinton, prepared the 
maps. The cartographic staff was supplemented by men of the United States 
Army to whom I am especially grateful: Specialist 5 Arthur S. Hardyman, 
Specialist 5 Edward S. Custer, Specialist 4 Daryl L. DeFrance, and Specialist 
5 Mark C. Finnemann. Miss Margaret L. Emerson made the index. 

The author alone is responsible for interpretations and conclusions, as 
well as for any errors that may appear. 



Washington, D.C. 
5 June 1972 



CHARLES B. MacDONALD 



Contents 



Chapter Pa g e 

I. PRELUDE TO VICTORY 1 

Allied Strategy 2 

Allied Versus German Strength 5 

Weapons and Equipment . 10 

Organization and Command 15 

Terrain and the Front Line 18 

II. VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 22 

The First Army's Attack 26 

A Grim Struggle Aromid Bastogne 33 

The Drive on St. Vith 43 

Northward Across the Sure 48 

III. MAIN EFFORT IN THE EIFEL 55 

General Bradley's Proposal 56 

The Eifel Highlands 57 

The Enemy in the Eifel 59 

A Try for Quick Success 60 

A Shift to the North 67 

An End to the Offensive 68 

IV. THE ROER RIVER DAMS 70 

Toward Schmidt 73 

Toward the Dam 80 

V. THE DRIVE ON PRUEM 84 

Into the West Wall 86 

German Countermeasures 91 

The Final Phase 96 

VI. BITBURG AND THE VIANDEN BULGE 99 

Crossing the Sauer 101 

The Vianden Bulge 106 

Expanding the XII Corps Bridgehead 112 

To Bitburg and the Kyll 113 

xi 



Chapter Page 

VII. THE SAAR-MOSELLE TRIANGLE 116 

Probing the Orscholz Switch 117 

Expanding the Penetration 123 

Broadening the Effort 125 

Crossing the Saar 129 

VIII. OPERATION GRENADE . 135 

The Terrain and the Enemy 137 

Catch-as-Catch-Can 140 

Objectives and Maneuvers 142 

Challenging the Swollen River 145 

The First Day on the East Bank 153 

The VII Corps at Dueren 156 

The First Day's Results 162 

IX. NINTH ARMY TO THE RHINE 163 

The Third and Fourth Days 166 

Rundstedt's Appeal 170 

Pursuit 171 

Efforts To Seize a Bridge 173 

The Wesel Pocket 179 

The Beginning of the End 183 

X. OPERATION LUMBERJACK 185 

Toward Bonn and Remagen 191 

Patton in the Eifel 196 

XI. A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 208 

The Germans at Remagen 209 

The Hope for a Bridge 211 

Advance to the Rhine 212 

The Crisis at the Bridge 213 

Reaction to the Coup 217 

On the German Side 220 

Build-up and Command Problems 222 

The End of the Bridge 229 

Expansion of the Bridgehead 230 

XII. THE SAAR-PALATINATE 236 

American Plans 238 

The Defenders 241 

Through the Hunsrueck 244 

Across the Lower Moselle 246 

Plunge to the Nahe and Fall of Koblenz . 249 

Seventh Army's Deliberate Attack 252 



xii 



Chapter Page 

Breakthrough 256 

Thrust to the Rhine 260 

XIII. THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 266 

The VIII Corps in the Rhine Gorge 273 

To the Main River and Frankfurt 279 

The Hammelburg Mission 280 

The Seventh Army Crossing at Worms . . . . 284 

The XX Corps in the Rhine-Main Arc 289 

XIV. THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 294 

The Big Build-up 296 

Interdiction From the Air 300 

The View From the East Bank 301 

"Two if by sea" 302 

Operation Flashpoint . 303 

The Drive to the Railroads 307 

Operation Varsity 309 

At the End of D-Day 314 

The Try for a Breakout 315 

How To Bring the Ninth Army's Power To Bear 317 

XV. AT THE END OF MARCH 321 

An Awesome Power 322 

The Logistical Backbone 324 

Decisions at the Top 328 

The Plight of the Germans 335 

A Decision on Berlin 339 

XVI. REDUCING THE RUHR . 344 

The Breakout Offensive 346 

Collapse of the LXXXIX Corps 348 

A Turn to the North 350 

The Thrust From Winterberg 354 

Breakthrough North of the Ruhr 357 

Making Motions at Breakout 359 

The Ruhr Pocket 362 

"The predominant color was white." 368 

XVII. SWEEP TO THE ELBE 373 

A New Allied Main Effort 379 

The Role of the Third Army 381 

A Bridgehead to Nowhere 384 

A Flak-Infested Route to the Mulde 389 

A Short New War 395 



xiii 



Chapter Page 

XVIII. THE MYTH OF THE REDOUBT 407 

The First Phase Beyond the Rhine 409 

The Struggle for Heilbronn and Crailsheim 415 

To the Hohe Rhoen and Schweinfurt 418 

A Shift to South and Southeast 420 

Nuremberg and the Drive to the Danube 422 

The Drive on Stuttgart 427 

A French Incursion to Ulm 430 

The "Stuttgart Incident" 432 

From the Danube Into Austria 433 

XIX. GOETTERDAEMMERUNG 443 

The Meeting at Torgau 445 

The End in Berlin 458 

The Drive to the Baltic 460 

Piecemeal Surrenders 464 

Surrender at Reims 474 

XX. EPILOGUE 476 

Appendix 

A. TABLE OF EQUIVALENT RANKS 483 

B. RECIPIENTS OF THE DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS 484 

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 489 

GLOSSARY 492 

CODE NAMES 497 

BASIC MILITARY MAP SYMBOLS 498 

INDEX 503 

Maps 

No. 

1. Main Effort in the Eifel, 27 January-3 February 1945 .... 61 

2. The Capture of Schmidt and the Schwammenauel Dam, 

5-9 February 1945 76 

3. The Remagen Bridgehead, 7-24 March 1945 218 

4. Foray to Hammelburg, 25-27 March 1945 282 

5. Reduction of the Ruhr Pocket, 4-14 April 1945 363 

6. The Harz Pocket, 11-17 April 1945 403 

7. The American-Russian Linkup, 25 April 1945 449 

8. Drive to the Baltic, 29 April-2 May 1945 . 462 

9. Action at Fern Pass, 44th Infantry Division, 1-4 May 1945 . . . 470 



xiv 



Maps I-XVII are in accompanying map envelope 

No. 

I. The Western Front, 3 January 1945 

II. The Ardennes Counteroffensive, 3-28 January 1945 

III. The Drive on Pruem 

IV. Clearing of the Vianden Bulge and the Capture of Bitburg, 

6-28 February 1945 

V. The Saar-Moselle Triangle, 13 January-1 March 1945 

VI. Operation Grenade, 22 February-1 1 March 1945 

VII. Eliminating the Wesel Pocket, 3-1 1 March 1 945 

VIII. Operation Lumberjack, 1-7 March 1945 

IX. The Saar- Palatinate Triangle, 12-21 March 1945 

X. The Rhine River Crossings in the South, 22-28 March 1 945 

XI. Rhine Crossings in the North, 24-28 March 1945 

XII. Breakout From Remagen, 24-28 March 1945 

XIII. Encircling the Ruhr, 28 March-1 April 1945 

XIV. Drive to the Elbe, 4-24 April 1945 

XV. Sixth Army Group Offensive, 27 March-24 April 1945 

XVI. Into Austria and Czechoslovakia, 28 April-8 May 1945 

XVII. V-E Day, 8 May 1945 



Illustrations 

Page 

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, and Lt. Gen. 

George S. Patton, Jr 3 

Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt 6 

M4 Sherman Tank in the Ardennes 11 

M4A3 Sherman Tank With 76-mm. Gun 12 

Lt. Gen. Courtney H. Hodges 27 

Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins 29 

General der Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel 30 

Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model 30 

Wind-Swept Snow in the Ardennes 37 

Patrols of the First and Third Armies Meet at Houffalize 42 

Maj. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway 45 

Medics Use a "Litter-Jeep" To Evacuate Patients 47 

Men of the 82d Airborne Division Pull Sleds Through the Ardennes Snow 62 

Traffic Jam on a Slick Ardennes Road 64 

Maj. Gen. C. Ralph Huebner 71 

The Urft Dam 74 

The Schwammenauel Dam 75 

Damage to the Schwammenauel Dam Causes Flooding of the Roer River 82 



xv 



Page 



Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton 85 

Men of the 4th Division Eating Inside Captured Pillbox 87 

Dropping Supplies by Parachute to the 4th Division 97 

Maj. Gen. Manton S. Eddy 101 

Crossing Site on the Sauer River Near Echternach 102 

Welcome to Germany From the 6th Armored Division 110 

Crew of a 3-Inch Gun on the Watch for German Tanks 119 

Removing German Dead After Fighting in Nennig 121 

Maj. Gen. Walton H. Walker 126 

Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson 136 

General der Infanterie Gustav von Zangen 142 

Bursts of White Phosphorus Shells Light Up the Roer River 144 

Crossing Sites at Linnich 146 

Derelict Assault Boats Near Linnich 148 

Smoke Pots Along the Roer Near Dueren 149 

Crossing Sites at Juelich 150 

Footbridge Across the Roer Serves Men of the 30th Division 152 

Crossing Sites at Dueren 158 

Maj. Gen. Raymond S. McLain 164 

Maj. Gen. John B. Anderson 166 

Pershing Tank T26 With 90-mm. Gun 170 

Maj. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem, Jr 175 

Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz 176 

The Demolished Hohenzollern Bridge at Cologne 190 

Maj. Gen. John Millikin 192 

2d Lt. Karl H. Timmerman, First Officer To Cross the Remagen Bridge . 215 

Sgt. Alexander Drabik, First American Across the Rhine ...... 217 

Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring 222 

Ludendorff Railroad Bridge at Remagen 224 

Maj. Gen. James A. Van Fleet 229 

The Rhine at the Remagen Bridge Site , . 231 

Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers 239 

Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch, Jr 240 

Engineers of the 87th Division Ferry a Tank Across the Moselle ... 251 

Troops of the 63d Division Cross Dragon's Teeth of the West Wall . . 255 

Reinforcements of the 5th Division Cross the Rhine in an LCVP ... 271 

Crossing the Rhine Under Enemy Fire at St. Goar 277 

Raising the American Flag Atop the Lorelei 278 

Maj. Gen. Wade H. Haislip 284 

Infantry of the 3d Division Climb the East Bank of the Rhine .... 288 

Duplex-Drive Tank With Skirt Folded 290 

Duplex-Drive Tank Enters the Water 291 

Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery 296 

American Paratrooper Caught in a Tree 310 



xvi 



Page 

Glider Troops After Landing Near Wesel 312 

Maj. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow 323 

The Rhine Railroad Bridge at Wesel 326 

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Bridge at Mainz 327 

Ponton Bridge Across the Rhine 328 

Liberated Prisoners of War 329 

Destruction in the Heart of Wurzburg 336 

Infantrymen of the 79th Division Cross the Rhein-Herne Canal .... 364 

Russian Prisoners Liberated by the Ninth Army 368 

German Soldiers Make Their Way Unguarded to a Prisoner-of-War Camp 369 

Prisoners of War in the Ruhr Pocket 371 

White Flags Hang Above a Deserted Street 377 

German Prisoners Head for the Rear as American Armor Advances . . 382 

German Civilians Carry Victims of Concentration Camp for Reburial . 383 

Infantrymen Ride an Armored Car in the Race to the Elbe 388 

Crossing of the Weser River 390 

A 12.8-cm. "Flak" Gun 394 

"Sixty-One Minute Roadblock" 411 

Maj. Gen. Frank W. Milburn 412' 

Lt. Gen. Edward H. Brooks 414 

A Tank of the 14th Armored Division Enters Prison Camp at 

Hammelburg 419 

A Patrol of the 3d Division Makes Its Way Through the Rubble of 

Nuremberg 424 

General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny 428 

Tanks of the 20th Armored Division Ford the Inn River 440 

Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division Approach Berchtesgaden . . 441 

2d Lt. William D. Robertson Shows General Eisenhower His Makeshift Flag 455 

General Hodges Meets the Russians at the Elbe 457 

Men of the 103d Division Find Resistance in the Austrian Alps .... 463 

Austrian Civilians Greet American Troops in Innsbruck 468 

Czechoslovakian Villagers Welcome Tank Crew 469 

Illustrations are from Department of Defense files. 



xvn 



The U.S. Army Center of Military History 

The Center of Military History prepares and publishes histories as required by 
the U.S. Army. It coordinates Army historical matters, including historical proper- 
ties, and supervises the Army museum system. It also maintains liaison with public 
and private agencies and individuals to stimulate interest and study in the field 
of military history. The Center is located at 1099 14th Street, N.W., Washington, 
D.C. 20005-3402. 



xviii 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



CHAPTER I 



Prelude to Victory 



By the third day of January 1945, the 
Germans in the snow-covered Ardennes 
region of Belgium and Luxembourg had 
shot their bolt. The winter counter- 
offensive, one of the more dramatic 
events of World War II in Europe, was 
not over in the sense that the original 
front lines had been restored, but the 
outcome could no longer be questioned. 
A week earlier the Third U.S. Army had 
established contact with an embattled 
American force at the road center of 
Bastogne, well within the southern 
shoulder of the German penetration. At 
this point it could be only a matter of 
time before the Third Army linked with 
the First U.S. Army driving down from 
the northern shoulder. Adolf Hitler, the 
German Fuehrer, himself admitted on 3 
January that the Ardennes operation, 
under its original concept, was "no 
longer promising of success." 1 

On this third day of January the First 
Army began its attack to link with the 
Third Army, to push in what had be- 
come known as the "bulge," and to reach 
the Rhine River. It was an attack des- 
tined to secure the tactical initiative that 
the Allied armies had lost temporarily 
in the December fighting but which, 
once regained, they would hold until 
after Hitler was dead and the German 



1 Magna E. Bauer, MS # R-15, Key Dates Dur- 
ing the Ardennes Offensive 1944, Part 1, annotated 
copy in OCMH. 



armed forces and nation were prostrate. 
One day later on the fourth, the Third 
Army, which had been attacking in the 
Ardennes since 22 December, was to 
start a new phase in its campaign to push 
in the southern portion of the bulge. 

On these two days in early January, 
deep in the Ardennes, the Allies began, 
in effect, their last great offensive of the 
war in Europe. 

Not that the entire front — stretching 
some 450 airline miles from the North 
Sea to the Swiss border — bu rst immedi- 
ately into flame. \(Map I)\ Indeed, the 
Germans no longer ago than New Year's 
Eve had launched a second counter- 
offensive— Operation NORDWIND— 
near the southern end of the Allied line 
in Alsace. This would take more than a 
fortnight to subdue. 2 Yet the fighting in 
Alsace, no matter how real and trying to 
the men and units involved, was a sec- 
ondary effort. The true turn the war was 
taking was more apparent in the north, 
where the last offensive materialized 
slowly, even gropingly, as the First and 
Third Armies sought to eradicate the 
last vestiges of the enemy's thrust in the 
Ardennes. One by one the other Allied 
armies would join the fight. 



* Maps numbered in Roman are in accompany- 
ing map envelope. 

2 Robert Ross Smith, The Riviera to the Rhine, 
a volume in preparation for the series UNITED 
STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II. 



1 



2 

Allied Strategy 

As soon as the Western Allies could 
repair their ruptured line, they could get 
back to what they had been about that 
cold, mist-clad morning of 16 December 
when the Germans had appeared without 
warning in the forests of the Ardennes. 3 
Not only could the attacks and prepara- 
tions that had been in progress be re- 
sumed in somewhat altered form but 
also a lively debate could be renewed 
among Allied commanders as to the 
proper course for Allied strategy. The 
debate had begun in August after the 
extent of the enemy's defeat in Nor- 
mandy had become apparent. 

In planning which preceded the in- 
vasion of Europe, General Dwight D. 
Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Al- 
lied Expeditionary Force, and his ad- 
visers had agreed to build up strength 
in a lodgment area in France; then to 
launch two major thrusts into Germany. 
One was to pass north of the Ardennes 
to seize the Ruhr industrial region, Ger- 
many's primary arsenal, the other south 
of the Ardennes to assist the main drive 
and at the same time eliminate the lesser 
Saar industrial area. 4 



8 Hugh M. Cole, The Ardennes: Battle of the 
Bulge, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD 
WAR II (Washington, 1965). 

4 SHAEF Planning Staff draft, Post-NEPTUNE 
Courses of Action After Capture of the Lodgment 
Area, Main Objectives and Axis of Advance, I, 3 
May 1944, SHAEF SGS 381, Post-OvERLOM> Plan- 
ning, I. The preinvasion plan and the debate are 
discussed in some detail in four volumes of the 
European theater subseries of the UNITED 
STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II: Hugh M. 
Cole, The Lorraine Campaign (Washington, 1950); 
Forrest C. Pogue, The Supreme Command (Wash- 
ington, 1954); Martin Blumenson, Breakout and 
Pursuit (Washington, 1961); and Charles B. Mac- 
Donald, The Siegfried Line Campaign (Washing- 
ton, 1963). 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 

In the event, the extent of German 
defeat in Normandy had exceeded any- 
thing the preinvasion planners had fore- 
seen; the Allies had gained the proposed 
limits of the lodgment area and had kept 
going in an uninterrupted drive against 
a fleeing enemy. When it appeared likely 
that failing to pause to allow the armies' 
logistical tails to catch up soon would 
limit operations, the senior British field 
commander in the theater, Field Marshal 
Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, had asked 
Eisenhower to abandon the secondary 
thrust. Concentrate everything, Mont- 
gomery urged, on one bold, end-the-war 
offensive north of the Ardennes, to be 
conducted primarily by Montgomery's 
command, the 21 Army Group. The 
commander of the 12th U.S. Army 
Group, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, 
favored instead a thrust by his First and 
Third U.S. Armies generally south of 
the Ardennes along the shortest route 
into Germany. One of Bradley's subordi- 
nates, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., had 
insisted that his command alone, the 
Third Army, could do the job. 

Unmoved by the arguments, General 
Eisenhower had continued to favor the 
preinvasion plan. While granting con- 
cessions to the main thrust in the north, 
including support from the First U.S. 
Army and the First Allied Airborne 
Army and a temporary halt in offensive 
operations by the Third Army, he had 
held to the design of advancing on a 
broad front. 

As operations developed, the 21 Army 
Group with the First Canadian and Sec- 
ond British Armies had advanced gen- 
erally north of the Ardennes through 
the Belgian plain into the Netherlands, 
while the First U.S. Army had provided 




Generals Eisenhower (center) , Bradley (left), and Patton Confer in the 
Ardennes 



4 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



support with a drive across eastern Bel- 
gium into what became known as the 
Aachen Gap. The Third Army, mean- 
while, had moved across northern France 
into Lorraine. In the south a new Allied 
force, the 6th Army Group, commanded 
by Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers and com- 
posed of the Seventh U.S. and First 
French Armies, had come ashore in 
southern France and extended the Allied 
front into Alsace. 

At that point the Germans, strength- 
ened along their frontier by inhospitable 
terrain and concrete fortifications (the 
West Wall, or, as Allied troops called it, 
the Siegfried Line) , and by proximity to 
their sources of supply as opposed to 
ever-lengthening Allied supply lines, had 
turned to fight back with surprising 
effect. Through the fall of 1944 they had 
limited Allied gains in the south to the 
German frontier along the Saar River 
and the upper Rhine. In the north, de- 
spite a spectacular airborne assault in the 
Netherlands by the First Allied Airborne 
Army, they had held the 2 1 Army Group 
generally south and west of the Maas 
River and the First Army west of the 
Roer River, less than 23 miles inside 
Germany. 

Through the fall campaign, debate 
over a concentrated thrust in the north 
as opposed to Eisenhower's broad-front 
strategy had continued to arise from 
time to time in one form or another. 
Tied in with it was a long-standing tenet 
of Field Marshal Montgomery's that 
Eisenhower should designate a single, 
over-all ground commander, presumably 
Montgomery himself. To both argu- 
ments, Eisenhower had continued to say 
no. The front was too long, he said, for 
one man to control it all; that was the 



reason for having army groups and 
armies. As to advance on a broad front, 
he believed it would be "very important 
to us later on to have two strings to our 
bow." 5 

Yet what persuasion could not effect, 
the enemy counteroffensive in part had 
wrought. With the German drive threat- 
ening to split the 12th Army Group, 
Eisenhower had given Montgomery tem- 
porary command of all forces north of 
the penetration. Not only was the First 
Army included but also the Ninth U.S. 
Army, which had entered the line in 
October north of Aachen between the 
First Army and the British. 

The debate had arisen again as the 
year 1944 came to a close. As soon as the 
Ardennes breach could be repaired, Gen- 
eral Eisenhower revealed, he intended to 
return the First Army to General Brad- 
ley's command and to resume operations 
within the framework of the broad-front 
strategy. The First and Third Armies 
were to drive from the Ardennes through 
the Eifel to reach the Rhine south of 
the Ruhr, while the 2 1 Army Group was 
to retain the Ninth Army and make a 
major drive to the Rhine north of the 
Ruhr. 6 

Even as the fighting to eliminate the 
enemy in the Ardennes developed mo- 
mentum, the British Chiefs of Staff 
emerged in clear disagreement with 
Eisenhower's views. On 10 January they 
asked formally for a strategy review by 
the Combined Chiefs of Staff (U.S. and 
British) , under whose direction General 
Eisenhower served. In reply to inquiry 



6 Ltrs, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 10 and 13 Oct 
44 and 1 Dec 44, as cited in Pogue, The Supreme 
Command, pp. 29,7, 314. 

e Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 31 Dec 44, as 
cited in Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 409. 



PRELUDE TO VICTORY 



5 



from. General George C. Marshall, Chief 
of Staff of the U.S. Army and a member 
of the Combined Chiefs, Eisenhower in- 
sisted that in order to concentrate a 
powerful force north of the Ruhr for the 
invasion of Germany, he had to have a 
firm defensive line (the Rhine) that 
could be held with minimum forces. 
Once he had concentrated along the 
Rhine, the main thrust would be made 
in the north on the north German plain 
over terrain conducive to the mobile 
warfare in which the Allies excelled. A 
secondary thrust was to be made south 
of the Ruhr, not in the vicinity of Bonn 
and Cologne, as the British wanted, be- 
cause the country east of the Rhine there 
is tactically unfavorable, but farther 
south near Frankfurt, where a terrain 
corridor that runs south of the Ardennes 
extends across the Rhine through Frank- 
furt to Kassel. 

Stopping off at Malta en route to top- 
level discussions with the eastern ally, 
the Soviet Union, the Chiefs of Staff of 
the British and American services — 
sitting as the Combined Chiefs of Staff — 
would on 2 February accept the Supreme 
Commander's plan. They would do so 
with the assurance that the main effort 
would be made north of the Ruhr and 
that this main thrust would not neces- 
sarily await clearing the entire west bank 
of the Rhine. 7 

For all its aspects of finality, this de- 
cision was not to end the matter. As 
plans for broadening the last offensive 
progressed, various ramifications of the 
controversy would continue to arise. Yet 
for the moment, at least, the air was 
clear. 



' For a full discussion of this subject, see Pogue, 
The Supreme Command, pp. 409-16. 



Allied Versus German Strength 

In returning to the offensive, General 
Eisenhower and his Allied command 
were dealing from overwhelming 
strength. By 3 January 3,724,927 Allied 
soldiers had come ashore in western 
Europe. 8 They were disposed tactically 
in 3 army groups, 9 armies (including 
one not yet assigned divisions) , 20 corps, 
and 73 divisions. Of the divisions, 49 
were infantry, 20 armored, and 4 air- 
borne. 9 Six tactical air commands and 
thousands of medium and heavy bombers 
backed up the armies. A highly complex, 
technical, and skilled logistical appa- 
ratus, recovered at last from the strain 
imposed by the pursuit to the German 
frontier, rendered support; behind the 
U.S. armies, this went by the name of 
the Communications Zone. The Allies 
would be striking with one of the strong- 
est, unquestionably the best-balanced, 
military forces of all time. 

At first glance German ground 
strength available to the Commander in 
Chief West (Oberbefehlshaber West), 10 
Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rund- 
stedt, appeared equal, even superior, to 
that of the Allies, for Rundstedt con- 
trolled, nominally, eighty divisions. In 
reality, many of these had been dras- 
tically reduced in the fighting. The 26th 



8 SHAEF G— 3 War Room Daily Summaries, 214- 
18. Casualties through 3 January totaled 516,244, 
though many of these men had returned to duty. 
U.S. forces had incurred 335,090 casualties, includ- 
ing 55,184 killed. 

Twelve divisions were British, 3 Canadian, 1 
Polish, 8 French, and 49 American. There were, in 
addition, a Polish brigade and contingents of 
Dutch, Belgian, and Czechoslovakian troops. 

10 Oberbefehlshaber West means either the Com- 
mander in Chief West or his headquarters. In this 
volume, the abbreviated form, OB WEST, will be 
used to refer to the headquarters. 



6 




Field Marshal von Rundstedt 



Volks Grenadier Division, for example, 
which had fought in the Ardennes, had 
a "present for duty" (Tagesstaerke) 
strength of 5,202 but a "combat effec- 
tive" (Kampfstaerke) strength of only 
1,782; this against a table of organization 
calling for approximately 10,000 men. 
Nor did the Germans have the trained 
replacements to bring units back to full 
strength. 11 

By contrast, Allied units, despite losses 
in the Ardennes and despite a pinch in 
American infantry replacements, would 



u OB WEST Wochenmeldungen, 1944-45, # H 
22/287. Volks Grenadier was an honorific, selected 
to appeal to the pride of the German people, das 
Volk, which Hitler accorded to certain infantry 
divisions. 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 

quickly be reconstituted. The 28th In- 
fantry Division, for example, literally 
shattered by the opening blows of the 
enemy thrust in December, would be 
virtually at full strength again by the 
end of January, even though Allied 
tables of organization called for from two 
to four thousand more men per division 
than did German tables. Only the 106th 
Infantry Division, which had had two 
regiments captured early in the fighting, 
would not be returned to full strength. 

The German forces opposing the 
Western Allies were organized into four 
army groups. In the north, Army Group 
H (Generaloberst Kurt Student) held 
the line from the Dutch coast to Roer- 
mond with the Twenty-fifth and First 
Parachute Armies, its boundaries 
roughly coterminous with those of the 2 1 
Army Group's First Canadian and Sec- 
ond British Armies. From Roermond 
south to the Moselle River near Trier, 
including the Ardennes bulge, stood 
Army Group B (Generalfeldmarschall 
Walter Model) , the strongest— by vir- 
ture of having been beefed up for the 
Ardennes operation — of the German 
army groups. Army Group B controlled 
the Fifth and Sixth Panzer Armies and 
the Seventh and Fifteenth Armies, gen- 
erally opposing the First, Third, and 
Ninth U.S. Armies. Extending the front 
to the northeast corner of France was 
Army Group G (Generaloberst Johannes 
Blaskowitz) with only one army, the 
First, opposite portions of the Third and 
Seventh U.S. Armies. Also controlling 
only one army, the Nineteenth, Army 
Group Oberrhein (Reichsfuehrer SS 
Heinrich Himmler) was responsible for 
holding the sector extending south to the 
Swiss border and for conducting the 
other winter counterblow, Operation 



PRELUDE TO VICTORY 



7 



NORDWIND. For various reasons, 
among them the fact that an exalted 
personage of the Nazi party such as 
Himmler hardly could submit to the 
command of an army leader, Army 
Group Oberrhein was tactically inde- 
pendent, in effect, a separate theater 
command. 12 

Unusual command arrangements, 
which in this particular case would not 
last beyond mid-January, were nothing 
new on the German side. The Com- 
mander in Chief West himself, for ex- 
ample, never had been a supreme 
commander in the sense that General 
Eisenhower was. The real supreme 
commander was back in Berlin, Adolf 
Hitler. To reach Hitler, Rundstedt's 
headquarters, OB WEST, had to go 
through a central headquarters in Berlin, 
the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht 
(OKW) , which was charged with opera- 
tions in all theaters except the east. 
(Oberkommando des Heeres — OKH — 
watched over the Eastern Front.) Jeal- 
ousies playing among the Army, Navy, 
Luftwaffe (air force) , Waffen-SS (mili- 
tary arm of the Nazi party) , and Nazi 
party political appointees further circum- 
scribed OB WEST'S authority. 13 

There could be no question as to the 
overwhelming nature of Allied strength 
as compared with what the Germans, 
fighting a three-front war, could muster 
in the west. Allied superiority in the 
west was at least 2I/2 to 1 in artillery, 



u Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) 
Wehrmachtfuehrungsstab (WFSt) situation maps 
for the period; Magna E. Bauer, MS # R-64, The 
Western Front in Mid-January 1945, prepared in 
OCMH to complement this volume, copy in 
OCMH. 

«MSS#T-i2i, T-122, and T-123, OB WEST, 
A Study in Command (Generalleutnant Bodo Zim- 
merman, G-3, OB WEST, and other officers). 



roughly 10 to 1 in tanks, more than 3 to 
1 in aircraft, and 2 1^ to 1 in troops. Nor 
could there be any question that long- 
range Allied capabilities also were im- 
mensely superior, since much of the great 
natural and industrial potential of the 
United States was untapped. German 
resources in January 1945 still were 
considerable nevertheless. If adroitly 
handled, some believed, these resources 
might enable the Germans to prolong 
the war and — should Hitler's secret 
weapons materialize — might even re- 
verse the course of the war. 

Despite the demands of five years of 
war and saturation attacks by Allied 
bombers, German production ' had 
reached a peak only in the fall of 1944. 
During September 1944, for example, 
Germany had produced 4,103 aircraft of 
all types. As late as November 1944, the 
Luftwaffe had more planes than ever 
before — 8, 1 03 (not counting transports) , 
of which 5,317 were operational. On 
New Year's Day 1,035 planes had taken 
to the air over the Netherlands, Belgium, 
and northern France in support of the 
Ardennes fighting. Some 25 new sub- 
marines — most equipped with a snorkel 
underwater breathing device — had been 
completed each month through the fall. 
Tank and assault gun output would stay 
at a steady monthly level of about 1,600 
from November 1944 to February 1945. 14 
A few newly developed jet-propelled air- 
craft already had appeared over the 
Western Front. In light of V-i flying 
bombs and V-2 supersonic missiles that 
had for months been bombarding British 
and Continental cities, a report that soon 

"Magna E. Bauer, MS # R-61, Effects of the 
Ardennes Offensive: Germany's Remaining War 
Potential, prepared to complement this volume, 
annotated copy in OCMH. 



8 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



the Germans would possess an inter- 
continental missile was not lightly dis- 
missed. 15 

In manpower the Germans still had 
reserves on which to draw. Of a popula- 
tion within prewar boundaries of some 
80 million, close to 13 million had been 
inducted into the armed forces, of whom 
4 million had been killed, wounded, or 
captured in five years of war. Yet not 
until January 1945 would Hitler decree 
that older men up to forty-five years of 
age be shifted from industry to the 
armed forces. As late as February, eight 
new divisions would be created, pri- 
marily from youths just turned seven- 
teen. As the roles of the Navy and 
Luftwaffe declined, substantial numbers 
of their men could be transferred to the 
Army. 18 

To these points on the credit side of 
the German ledger would have to be 
added the pertinacity of the German 
leader, Adolf Hitler. Although shaken by 
an attempt on his life in the summer of 
1944 and sick from overuse of sedatives, 
Hitler in January 1945 still was a man 
of dominant personality and undiluted 
devotion to the belief that even though 
a German military victory might be im- 
possible, the war somehow could be 
brought to a favorable end. His distrust 
of nearly everybody around him had 
served to feed his conviction that he 
alone was capable of correctly estimating 
the future course of the war. He would 
tolerate no dissenting voices. 

To a varying degree, depending on in- 



15 Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., 
"The Army Air Forces in World War II," III, 
Europe: Argument to V-E Day (Chicago: The Uni- 
versity of Chicago Press, 1951) (Hereafter cited as 
AAF III), 84, 545, and 659. 

M MS#R-6i (Bauer). 



dividual insight, the German soldiers 
and their leaders accepted the promises 
and assurances of their Fuehrer that, 
given time, political demarches, dissent 
among the Allies, even continued con- 
ventional military efforts, Germany 
could anticipate some kind of salvation. 
Given time alone, the Third Reich could 
develop new miracle weapons and im- 
prove existing weapons so that the 
enemy, if he could not be beaten, still 
could be forced to compromise, or else 
the "Anglo-Saxons," as Hitler called the 
Western Allies, might be persuaded to 
join with Germany in the war against 
bolshevism. The time to achieve all this 
could be gained only by stubborn com- 
bat. If some preferred to give up the 
fight and surrender, the great majority 
would continue the battle with determi- 
nation. 17 

It is difficult, in retrospect, to compre- 
hend how any thinking German could 
have believed genuinely in anything 
other than defeat as 1 945 opened, despite 
the credits on the ledger, for entries on 
the debit side were almost overwhelming. 
North Africa, France, Belgium, Luxem- 
bourg, Crete, Russia, much of the Bal- 
kans, much of Italy and Poland, parts of 
the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Yugo- 
slavia, and even East Prussia — all had 
been lost, together with the Finnish and 
Italian allies. The nation's three major 
industrial regions — the Ruhr, Saar, and 
Silesia — lay almost in the shadow of the 
guns of either the Western Allies or the 
Russians.. The failure in the Ardennes 
was all the more disheartening because 
so much had been expected of the cam- 
paign. The impressive numbers of air- 
craft were almost meaningless when 



« Ibid, 



PRELUDE TO VICTORY 



9 



measured against shortages in trained 
pilots and aviation fuel, the latter so 
lacking that few new pilots could be 
trained. Although Hitler time after time 
promised to introduce a fleet of jet- 
propelled fighters to set matters right in 
the skies, his insistence back in 1943 that 
the jet be developed not as a fighter but 
as a bomber in order to wreak revenge 
on the British had assured such a delay 
in jet fighter production that jets would 
play only a peripheral role in the war. 

Tank and assault gun production fig- 
ures also had to be considered against 
the background of fuel shortages and a 
crippled transportation system that made 
it increasingly difficult to get the weapons 
from assembly line to front line. An 
Allied air offensive against oil and trans- 
portation, for example, begun during the 
summer of 1944, had had severe reper- 
cussions in more than one segment of the 
war economy. Shipment of coal by water 
and by rail (normally 40 percent of 
traffic) had fallen from 7.4 million tons 
in August to 2.7 million tons in Decem- 
ber. Production in synthetic fuel plants, 
responsible for 90 percent of Germany's 
aviation gasoline and 30 percent of the 
nation's motor gasoline, had dropped 
from an average of 359,000 tons in the 
four months preceding the attacks to 
24,000 tons in September. 18 The atmos- 
phere of impending doom was further 
heightened by knowledge that even if 
the Ardennes fighting did delay another 
major Allied offensive for a month or so, 
the Russians were readying an all-out 
strike that was sure to come, if not in 
days then in weeks. 

18 The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, 
Report 3, European War, The Effects of Strategic 
Bombing on the German War Economy, 31 Octo- 
ber 1945, pp. 12-13. 



Nor was the German Army that stood 
in the east, in Italy, and in the west in 
any way comparable to the conquering 
legions of the early months of the war. 
The long, brutal campaign against the 
Russians had crippled the Army even be- 
fore Allied troops had forced their way 
ashore in Normandy. Units that at one 
time had boasted of their all-German 
"racial purity" were now laced with 
Volksdeutsche ("racial Germans" from 
border areas of adjacent countries) , and 
Hilfswillige (auxiliaries recruited from 
among Russian prisoners of war) , and 
physical standards for front-line service 
had been sharply relaxed. Many of the 
German divisions had only two infantry 
regiments of two battalions each, and 
some had only two light artillery bat- 
talions of two batteries each and one 
medium battalion. 

The Army faced a further handicap in 
the stultifying effect of a long-standing 
order from Hitler forbidding any volun- 
tary withdrawal. Having apparently 
forestalled a disastrous retreat before the 
Russian counteroffensive in front of Mos- 
cow in the winter of 1941-42 by ordering 
that positions be held even when by- 
passed or surrounded, Hitler saw a policy 
of "hold at all costs" as a panacea for 
every tactical situation. Not a single con- 
crete pillbox or bunker of the western 
border fortifications, the West Wall, was 
to be relinquished voluntarily. Hitler 
also constantly delayed granting author- 
ity for preparing rear defensive positions 
lest these serve as a magnet pulling the 
troops back. 

For all these negative factors, many 
Germans continued to believe if not in 
victory, then in a kind of nihilistic syl- 
logism which said: Quit now, and all is 
lost; hold on, and maybe something will 



10 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



happen to help — a process of inductive 
reasoning that Allied insistence on un- 
conditional surrender may not have pro- 
moted but did nothing to dissuade. 
Already the Germans had demonstrated 
amply an ability to absorb punishment, 
to improvise, block, mend, feint, delay. 

Weapons and Equipment 

Making up approximately three- 
fourths of the total Allied force engaged 
in the last offensive, the American soldier 
was perhaps the best-paid and best-fed 
soldier of any army up to that time. Ex- 
cept for a few items of winter clothing, 
he was also as well or better clothed than 
any of his allies or his enemy. In the 
matter of armament and combat equip- 
ment, American research and production 
had served him well. On the other hand, 
his adversary possessed, qualitatively at 
least, battle-worthy equipment and an 
impressive arsenal. 19 

The basic shoulder weapon of the 
U.S. soldier was the .30-caliber Mi 
(Garand) rifle, a semiautomatic piece, 
while the German soldier employed a 
7.92-mm. (Mauser) bolt-action rifle. 
Two favorite weapons of the American 
were outgrowths of World War I, the 
.30-caliber Browning automatic rifle 
(BAR) and the .30-caliber Browning 
machine gun in both light (air-cooled) 
and heavy (water-cooled) models. The 
German soldier had no widely used 
equivalent of the BAR, depending in- 
stead on a machine pistol that the Ameri- 



19 A comprehensive study and comparison o£ 
American and German weapons and equipment 
will be found in Lida Mayo, The Ordnance De- 
partment: On Beachhead and Battlefront, UNITED 
STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washing- 
ton, 1968). 



cans called, from an emetic sound 
attributable to a high cyclic rate of fire, 
a "burp gun." The burp gun was similar, 
in some respects, to the U.S. Thompson 
submachine gun. The standard German 
machine gun was the Mi 942, which had 
a similarly high cyclic rate of fire. 

In the two arsenals of antitank weap- 
ons, the most effective close-range 
weapons were the German one-shot, 
shaped-charge piece called a Panzerfaust, 
and the American 2.36-inch rocket 
launcher, the bazooka. Late in the cam- 
paign the Americans would introduce a 
new antitank weapon, the recoilless rifle 
in 57- and 75-mm. models, but the war 
would end before more than a hundred 
reached the European theater. The con- 
ventional towed 57-mm. antitank gun 
most American units at this stage of the 
war had come to view as excess baggage; 
but in the defensive role in which the 
Germans would find themselves, towed 
pieces still would be used. In general, 
the basic antitank weapon was the tank 
itself or a self-propelled gun, called by 
the Americans a tank destroyer, by the 
Germans an assault gun. German assault 
guns usually were either 76- or 88-mm. 
Most American tank destroyers were 
Mio's with 3-inch guns, though by No- 
vember substantial numbers of M36's 
mounting a high-velocity 90-mm. piece 
had begun to arrive. Because the tank 
destroyer looked much like a tank, many 
commanders tried to employ it as a tank, 
but since it lacked heavy armor plate, the 
practice often was fatal. 

The standard American tank, the M4 
Sherman, a 33-ton medium, was rela- 
tively obsolescent. Most of the Shermans 
still mounted a short-barreled 75-mm. 
gun, which repeatedly had proved inca- 



PRELUDE TO VICTORY 



11 




pable of fighting German armor on 
equal terms. They plainly were out- 
gunned, not necessarily by the enemy's 
medium (Mark IV) tank but unques- 
tionably by the 50-ton Mark V (Pan- 
ther) and the 54-ton Mark VI (Tiger) , 
the latter mounting a high-velocity 88- 
mm. gun. 20 The Panther and Tiger also 
surpassed the Sherman in thickness of 
armor and width of tracks. 

Although modifications of the M4 had 
begun to reach the theater in some quan- 
tity in late fall and early winter, most 
equipped with a 76-mm. gun, some with 

20 A souped-up version of the Tiger, called the 
King Tiger or Tiger Royal, appeared in small 
numbers. 



increased armor plate, the old Sherman 
remained the basic tank. As late as the 
last week of February 1945, for example, 
less than one-third of the mediums in the 
Ninth Army were equipped with a 76- 
mm. piece. The best of the modifications 
of the M4 to reach the theater in any 
quantity was the M4A3, 76-mm. gun, 
Wet Series, familiarly known as the 
"Jumbo." Its high-velocity gun had a 
muzzle brake, and the tank had a new 
suspension system and 23-inch steel 
tracks in place of the old i6% 6 -inch rub- 
ber block tracks. Neither a radically 
designed medium tank (the M26, 
mounting a 90-mm. gun) nor a heavy 
tank would reach the theater before the 



12 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



end of hostilities in other than experi- 
mental numbers. 21 

The basic German mortars were of 50- 
and 81 -mm. caliber, comparable to the 
American 60- and 81-mm., but the little 
50 had fallen into disfavor as too small 
to be effective. Unlike the Americans, 
the Germans also employed heavier mor- 
tars, some up to 380-mm. The Nebel- 
werferj or "Screaming Meemie," as the 
U.S. soldier called it, was a multiple- 
barrel 150-mm. mortar or rocket 
launcher mounted on wheels and fired 
electrically. The Americans had a simi- 
lar weapon in the 4.5-inch rocket 
launcher. 

The most widely used artillery pieces 
of both combatants were light and 
medium howitzers, German and Ameri- 
can models of which were roughly com- 
parable in caliber and performance. The 
German pieces were gun-howitzers (105- 
mm. light and 150-mm. medium) ; the 
American pieces, howitzers (105- and 
1 55-mm.) . The German infantry di- 
vision, like the American, was supposed 
to have four artillery battalions, three 
light and one medium. As was standard 
practice in the U.S. Army, additional 
artillery, some of it of larger caliber, op- 
erated under corps and army control. 

German artillery doctrine and organi- 
zation for the control and delivery of 
fire differed materially from the Ameri- 
can only in that the German organic 
divisional artillery was less well equipped 
for communication. Excellent American 
communications facilities down to bat- 

21 Cole, in The Lorraine Campaign, pages 603-04, 
and The Ardennes, pages 651-52, compares charac- 
teristics of German and U.S. tanks. See also Con- 
stance McLaughlin Green, Harry C. Thomson, and 
Peter C. Roots, The Ordnance Department: Plan- 
ning Munitions for War, UNITED STATES ARMY 
IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1955), ch. X. 




M4A3 Sherman Tank With 76-MM. Gun 

tery level and effective operation of fire 
direction centers permitted more ac- 
curate fire and greater concentration in a 
shorter time. Yet the shortcomings of the 
enemy in the matter of effective concen- 
trations were attributable less to deficien- 
cies of doctrine and organization than to 
shortages of ammunition and other rav- 
ages of war. Except that of the panzer 
and panzer grenadier divisions, almost 
all German artillery, for example, was at 
this stage horse-drawn. 22 

Controlling the air, the Americans 
could employ with tremendous effect ar- 
tillery spotter planes which greatly ex- 
tended the effective visual distance of 
artillery observers. A simple little mono- 
plane (L-4 or L-5) , known variously as 

22 Charles V. P. von Luttichau, Notes on German 
and U.S. Artillery, MS in OCMH; Gen. Hasso von 
Manteuffel, comments on draft MS for this volume. 



PRELUDE TO VICTORY 



13 



a Piper Cub, cub, liaison plane, grass- 
hopper, or observation plane, it had 
more than proved its worth — particularly 
in counterbattery fires — long before the 
last offensive began. Although the Ger- 
mans had a similar plane — the Storck — 
overwhelming Allied air superiority had 
practically driven it from the skies. 

American artillery also gained a slight 
advantage from a supersecret fuze, called 
variously the VT (variable time) , 
POZIT, or proximity fuze, by means of 
which artillery shells exploded from ex- 
ternal influences in the air close to the 
target, an improvement on time fire. 
Long employed in antiaircraft fire but 
first used by ground artillery during the 
defensive phase of the Ardennes fighting, 
the fuze was undoubtedly effective, 
though the limited extent of its use 
could hardly justify extravagant claims 
made for it by enthusiastic scientists. 23 

Other than tanks, the German weapon 
which most impressed the American 
soldier was the "88," an 88-mm. high- 
velocity, dual-purpose antiaircraft and 
antitank piece. So imbued with respect 
for the 88 had the American become 
from the fighting in North Africa on- 
ward that a shell from almost any high- 
velocity German weapon he attributed 
to the 88. 

In the vital field of signal communica- 
tions, the Americans held an advantage 
at tactical levels because of the inroads 
battle losses and substitute materials had 
made in the German system and because 
of widespread American use of frequency 
modulation (FM) in radio communica- 
tions. Both armies operated on the same 
theory of two networks of radio and two 
of telephone communications within the 



"Cole, The Ardennes, pp. 655-56. 



division, one for infantry or armor, one 
for artillery; but at this stage of the war 
the German system often failed to reach 
as low as company level. By use of sound- 
powered telephone, the Americans 
gained telephonic communication down 
to platoons and even squads. They also 
had a good intracompany radio system 
with the use of an amplitude modulated 
(AM) set, the SCR-536, or handie- 
talkie. 

In the offensive, radio usually served as 
the communications workhorse in for- 
ward areas. Here the Americans held 
advantages with the handie-talkie and 
with FM. One of the communications 
standbys of the war was the SCR-300, 
the walkie-talkie, an FM set of commend- 
able performance, used primarily at com- 
pany and battalion levels. German sets, 
all of which were AM, were subject to 
interference by the sheer volume of their 
own and Allied traffic. Perhaps because 
of the lack of intracompany wire or 
radio, the Germans used visual signals 
such as colored lights and pyrotechnics 
more often than did the Americans. 24 

The air support which stood behind 
the Allied armies was tremendously 
powerful. In close support of the 
ground troops were six tactical air 
commands, but also available for tacti- 
cal support were eleven groups of 
medium and light bombers (B-26 
Marauders, A-20 Havocs, and A-26 
Invaders) of the IX U.S. Bomber Com- 
mand and other mediums under British 



21 For detailed discussion of American and Ger- 
man communications, see two volumes in the series, 
UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II: 
George R. Thompson, Dixie R. Harris, Pauline M. 
Oakes, and Dulany Terrett, The Signal Corps: The 
Test (Washington, 1957), and George R. Thomp- 
son and Dixie R. Harris, The Signal Corps: The 
Outcome (Washington, 1966). 



14 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



control. On occasion, the devastating 
heavy bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air 
Force and the Royal Air Force Bomber 
Command were called in. Not counting 
Allied aircraft based in Italy, the Allies 
could muster more than 17,500 first- 
line combat aircraft, including approxi- 
mately 5,000 British aircraft of all types, 
6,881 U.S. bombers, and 5,002 U.S. 
fighters, plus hundreds of miscellaneous 
types for reconnaissance, liaison, and 
transport. 25 

The tactical air commands were the 
British Second Tactical Air Force, in 
support of the Second British and First 
Canadian Armies; the First French Air 
Corps, in support of the First French 
Army; and four American forces, the 
IX, XI, XIX, and XXIX Tactical Air 
Commands, in support, respectively, of 
the First, Seventh, Third, and Ninth 
Armies. All American tactical support 
aircraft — mediums and fighter-bombers 
— were a part of the Ninth Air Force 
(Maj. Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg) . 

Like divisions attached to ground 
corps and armies, the number of fighter- 
bomber groups assigned to tactical air 
commands often varied, though the 
usual number was six. A group normal- 
ly had three squadrons of twenty-five 
planes each: P-38's (Lightnings) , P- 
47's (Thunderbolts), P-51's (Mus- 
tangs) , or, in the case of night fighter 
groups, P-61's (Black Widows) . The 
French used American planes, while the 
basic British tactical fighters were roc- 
ket-firing Hurricanes and Typhoons. 

Requests for air support passed from 
the air support officer at division head- 



86 Army Air Forces Statistical Digest, World War 
II, with supplement, p. 156. 



quarters to the G— 3 Air Section at army 
headquarters for transmission to the 
tactical air command, with an air sup- 
port officer at corps merely monitoring 
the request. Usually set up close to the 
army headquarters, the air headquarters 
ruled on the feasibility of a mission and 
assigned the proper number of aircraft 
to it. Since air targets could not always 
be anticipated, most divisions had come 
to prefer a system of "armed reconnais- 
sance flights" in which a group assigned 
to the division or corps for the day 
checked in by radio directly with the 
appropriate air support officer. Thus 
the planes could be called in as soon as 
a target appeared without the delay- in- 
volved in forwarding a request through 
channels. Requests for support from 
mediums had to be approved by the G- 
3 Air Section at army group head- 
quarters and took appreciably longer. 28 
In the matter of logistics, the pendu- 
lum had swung heavily to the Allied 
side. Although logistical difficulties had 
contributed in large measure to the 
Allied bog-down along the German 
border in the fall of 1944, opening of 
the great port of Antwerp in late 
November, plus the use of major ports 
in southern France, had speeded re- 
covery of the logistical apparatus. Sup- 
ply losses in the early Ardennes fighting, 
while locally painful, were no problem 
in the long run. The Germans, for their 
part, had expended carefully hoarded 
reserves in the Ardennes. Although they 
still derived some benefit from prox- 
imity to their sources of supply, they 
would find that the traditional advan- 



26 Craven and Cate, AAF ill, pp. 107-37; The 
Ninth Air Force and Its Principal Commands in 
the ETO, vol. I, ch. VII, and vol. II, part 1. 



PRELUDE TO VICTORY 



15 



tage of inner lines had lost some of its 
effect in the air age. 27 

Organization and Command 

With the exception of a few new divi- 
sions, the American force participating 
in the last offensive was experienced in 
the ways of battle, a thoroughly profes- 
sional force scarcely comparable to the 
unseasoned soldiery that had taken the 
field even such a short time before as 
D-day in Normandy. That the Ameri- 
cans had come fully of age had been 
amply demonstrated in the stalwart de- 
fense of the American soldier against 
the surprise onslaught in the Ardennes 
and in the swift reaction of the Ameri- 
can command. 

Having moved three months before 
from England, General Eisenhower's 
Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expedi- 
tionary Force (SHAEF Main) was 
established in Versailles with adequate 
radio and telephone communications to 
all major commands. A small tent and 
trailer camp at Gueux, near Reims, 
served the Supreme Commander as a 
forward headquarters. In addition to 
the three Allied army groups — 6th, iath, 
and 21 — General Eisenhower exercised 
direct command over the First Allied 
Airborne Army (Lt. Gen. Lewis H. 
Brereton) , U.S. and British tactical air 
forces, and the Communications Zone 
(Lt. Gen. John C. H. Lee) . Although 
the Allied strategic air forces operated 
directly under the Combined Chiefs of 
Staff rather than under Eisenhower, the 



27 A detailed account of logistics in the European 
theater may be found in Roland G. Ruppenthal, 
Logistical Support of the Armies I, UNITED 
STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washing- 
ton, 1955) , and // (Washington, 1959) . 



Supreme Commander had first call 
upon them when he required their di- 
rect support for ground operations. 

The two American army groups rep- 
resented, in effect, a new departure in 
American military experience in that 
the only previous U.S. army group had 
existed only briefly near the end of 
World War I when General John J. 
Pershing had grouped two American 
armies under his own command. With 
little precedent as a guide, the way the 
two army group commanders, Generals 
Bradley and Devers, organized their 
headquarters and exercised command 
reflected much of their own individual 
concepts. Although both retained the 
usual "G" and Special Staff organiza- 
tion, Devers ran his army group with a 
staff of only about 600 officers and men, 
while Bradley employed double that 
number. The numbers told much 
about the way each interpreted the role 
of the army group commander: Devers 
played it loosely, leaving planning main- 
ly to his army commanders and author- 
izing his staff to seek information at 
lower levels and make changes on the 
spot. Much as when he had commanded 
the First Army, Bradley exercised much 
closer control over his army commanders 
and employed his staff in intricate, 
detailed planning. General Bradley 
after the war liked to point out that he 
had intimate foreknowledge of every 
move of his armies except in one case 
when General Patton set out on an 
operation that he came to rue. 28 

Under the American system, both 
army group and army exercised com- 
mand and logistical functions, while at 



28 Interviews, author with Bradley, 30 Jun 67, and 
Devers, 7 Dec 67. 



16 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



the level of corps the commander was 
free of the latter. This system afforded 
the corps commander time to concen- 
trate on tactical matters and established 
the corps as a strong component in the 
command structure. Equipped with 
modern means of communication and 
transportation, the corps commander 
had regained a measure of the control 
and influence over the actions of his 
divisions that the advent of mass armies 
and rapid-fire weapons had originally 
taken away. 

The American division in World 
War II reflected an early decision to 
keep the army in the field lean, to avoid 
duplicating the powerful but ponderous 
28,000-man division that had fought in 
the trenches with Pershing. The theory 
was that if all the engineer, medical, 
transport, quartermaster, and other sup- 
port troops that were needed to meet 
any contingency were an integral part 
of the division, not only would the 
division be difficult to control and ma- 
neuver but many of the troops would 
often be idle while awaiting a call on 
the specialties for which they were 
trained. Better to let infantrymen them- 
selves double as drivers, radio operators, 
mechanics, and the like, while special- 
ized units of heavy artillery, transport, 
construction engineers, signalmen, tank 
destroyers, tanks, and other support 
could be attached as required. The 
method had the added virtue of elimi- 
nating the need for a variety of special- 
ized divisions since infantry divisions 
could be tailored by attachments to fit 
various requirements. 

Because the fighting in Europe posed 
an almost constant demand for close- 
support firepower and antitank defense, 
attachment of a tank and a tank de- 



stroyer battalion to the infantry division 
became customary, bringing the size of 
the division to about 16,000 men. 
Similarly, a separate tank destroyer 
battalion was nearly always attached to 
the armored division. 

After a first rush to create a "heavy" 
armored division comparable to the 
early German panzer division, the U.S. 
Army had scaled down the medium 
tank strength of the armored division 
from 250 to 154 and added more in- 
fantry to provide staying power. The 
new organization had dispensed with 
armored and armored infantry regi- 
ments, providing instead battalions that 
could be grouped in various "mixes" 
under combat commands. While lack- 
ing some of the shock power of the old 
heavy division, the new formation had 
proven flexible, maneuverable, and 
fully capable of meeting the German 
panzer division of 1944-45 on at least 
equal terms. Three of the heavy ar- 
mored divisions remained — the 1st in 
Italy and the 2d and 3d in Eisenhower's 
command. 

The armored division usually oper- 
ated in three combat commands, A, B, 
and R (Reserve) , each built around a 
battalion of medium tanks and a bat- 
talion of armored infantry, with added 
increments of engineers, tank destroy- 
ers, medics, and other services plus artil- 
lery support commensurate with the 
combat command's assignment. Thus 
each combat command was approxi- 
mately equal in power and interchange- 
able in terms of combat mission, while 
in the old heavy division Combat Com- 
mands A and B almost always bore the 
major assignments since the reserve 
consisted usually of some contingent 
pulled from either or both of the larger 



PRELUDE TO VICTORY 



17 



commands to afford the commander a 
maneuver or reinforcing element. In 
both type divisions combat commands 
usually operated under an arrangement 
of two or more "task forces." 

Much like armor with its combat 
commands, infantry divisions almost 
always employed regimental combat 
teams. Each of the division's three in- 
fantry regiments was supported by a 
105-mm. howitzer battalion and in- 
crements of divisional support troops 
while the division's 155-mm. howitzer 
battalion was available for reinforcing 
fires as needed. 

The corps usually consisted of a 
minimum of three divisions — two in- 
fantry, one armored. Never did the U.S. 
Army employ an armored corps of the 
type the Germans used in early break- 
throughs in Poland and on the Western 
Front, partly because of the antipathy 
toward specialization and partly be- 
cause the American infantry division 
with a high mobility and with attached 
tanks and tank destroyers was essentially 
the equivalent to the German panzer gren- 
adier division. Thus a regular corps was 
considerably heavier in armor than the 
presence of one armored and two infantry 
divisions might otherwise indicate. The 
only specialized U.S. corps was the XVIII 
Airborne Corps, which like U.S. airborne 
divisions was destined to spend more time 
in straight ground combat than in its spe- 
cialized role. 

Heading this American force in 
Europe was a group of senior com- 
manders who had come to know each 
other intimately during the lean years 
of the small peacetime Army and who 
all had absorbed the same doctrinal 
concepts from the service schools and 
the Command and General Staff Col- 



lege. General Eisenhower and two of 
his top American subordinates, Bradley 
and Patton, had been closely associated 
in battle since the campaign in North 
Africa, and Lt. Gen. Courtney H. 
Hodges of the First Army, who had 
come to France as Bradley's deputy in 
the First Army, and Lt. Gen. William H. 
Simpson of the Ninth Army had devel- 
oped a close command association with 
the others through the fighting of the 
fall and early winter. General Devers 
and his one American army commander, 
Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch of the 
Seventh Army, were less fully integrated 
in the command team, partly because 
they had entered the fight separately by 
way of southern France rather than Nor- 
mandy, partly because they functioned 
in a supporting role on a flank and thus 
commanded less direct attention from 
the Supreme Commander, and partly be- 
cause General Devers had not been 
Eisenhower's selection but that of the 
Chief of Staff, General Marshall, and 
Patch had been Dever's choice. Yet the 
military schooling and experience of 
these two was much the same as that of 
the others, and the fall and early winter 
campaigns had already produced a 
strong measure of understanding. 

A potentially divisive element was 
present in the American command in 
the person of the Third Army com- 
mander, General Patton. A charismatic 
leader, Patton was also impetuous and 
had come close on several occasions to 
summary relief. While General Eisen- 
hower had in each case decided finally 
against that discipline, Patton had sorely 
tried his patience, and as a result of 
slapping incidents involving two hos- 
pitalized soldiers in Sicily, he had 



18 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



vowed never to elevate Patton above 
army command. Respecting Bradley, 
Patton had agreed without rancor to 
serve under Bradley, one who in North 
Africa and Sicily had been his subordi- 
nate. Aware that Patton was impetuous 
and that grim, slugging warfare tried his 
thin patience, Eisenhower and Bradley 
kept a close rein on the Third Army 
commander but so unobtrusively that 
Patton himself often thought he was 
putting things over on his superiors 
when actually they were fully informed. 
Aware also of Patton's superior abilities 
in more fluid warfare, Eisenhower and 
Bradley consciously loosened their hold 
on the rein when breakthrough and pur- 
suit were the order of the day. 29 

In the over-all command structure, 
two other potentially abrasive elements 
were present in the persons of the 21 
Army Group commander, Field Mar- 
shal Montgomery, and the First French 
Army commander, General Jean de 
Lattre de Tassigny. Although Mont- 
gomery and de Lattre commanded 
forces considerably smaller than those 
fielded by the Americans, each was a 
dominant personality and as the senior 
field representative of one of the major 
allies sought a strong voice in command 
deliberations. Nor was either reluctant 
in the face of controversy to call in the 
persuasive force of his head of state. 

Terrain and the Front Line 

At the closest point, the Allied front 
line in early January was some twenty- 
five miles from the Ruhr industrial 
area. Although Berlin, the political 
heart of Germany, might constitute the 

29 Interviews, author with Eisenhower, 23 Jun 67; 
Bradley, 30 Jun 67; and Devers, 7 Dec 67. 



final objective of the Allied armies, the 
Ruhr with its coal mines, blast furnaces, 
and factories, the muscle with which 
Germany waged war, was the more vital 
objective. Without the Ruhr, Ger- 
many's case would fast become hopeless; 
taking Berlin and all other objectives 
then would be but a matter of time. 80 

No political or geographical entity, 
the Ruhr can be fairly accurately de- 
scribed as a triangle with its base along 
the east bank of the Rhine River from 
Cologne northward to Duisburg, a dis- 
tance of some thirty-five miles. One 
side of the triangle extends eastward 
from Duisburg along the Lippe River 
to Dortmund, for thirty-five to forty 
miles; the other side about the same dis- 
tance southwestward from Dortmund to 
the vicinity of Cologne along the Ruhr 
River. The region embraces major 
cities such as Essen, Duesseldorf, and 
Wuppertal. 

The trace of the front line in early 
January clearly reflected Allied preoc- 
cupation with the Ruhr as an objective 
and General Eisenhower's broad-front 
strategy, plus the accident of the Ar- 
dennes counteroffensive. Starting at the 
Dutch islands of Noord Beveland and 
Tholen, the line followed the Maas and 
Waal Rivers eastward to Nijmegen, 
where the Allies maintained a small 
bridgehead north of the Waal, thence 
southward along the west bank of the 
Maas to Maeseyck. There the line 
turned southeastward across the Maas 
to reach the Roer River near Heinsberg, 
thence south and southwestward to the 
headwaters of the Roer at Monschau. 
The sector along the Roer — some forty 

30 SHAEF Planning Staff, Post-NEPTUNE Courses 
of Action After Capture of Lodgment Area, 
SHAEF SGS file, 381, I. 



PRELUDE TO VICTORY 



19 



miles long — represented the only major 
breach of the West Wall fortifications. 

At Monschau began what was left 
of the Ardennes bulge. The line ran 
sharply southwest as far as Marche, 
some forty miles west of the German 
frontier, thence southeast to rejoin the 
frontier a few miles northwest of Trier. 
It then followed the Moselle River to 
the southern border of Luxembourg, 
there to swing east and parallel the 
Franco-German border to the vicinity 
of Sarreguemines. From there to Gamb- 
sheim on the west bank of the Rhine a 
few miles north of Strasbourg the front 
was in a state of flux as a result of the 
NORDWIND counteroffensive. A few 
miles south of Strasbourg, it again 
veered west to encompass a portion of 
Alsace still held by the Germans, called 
by Allied soldiers the Colmar pocket. 
The front line reached the Rhine again 
east of Mulhouse and followed the river 
to the Swiss border. 

The terrain immediately in front of 
the Allied positions could be divided 
into four general classifications: the 
flatlands of the Netherlands and the 
Cologne plain, crisscrossed by waterways 
and studded with towns and villages; 
the Ardennes-Eifel, a high plateau so 
deeply cut by erosion that it appears 
mountainous; the Saar-Palatinate, an- 
other plateau, sprinkled with coal mines 
and steel processing plants, separated 
from the Ardennes-Eifel by the trench 
of the Moselle; and the Vosges Moun- 
tains-Black Forest massif, two sharply 
defined mountain regions belonging to 
the same geological age but separated 
by the trench of the Rhine. 

The flatlands in the north were the 
responsibility of the First Canadian 
Army (Lt. Gen. Henry D. G. Crerar) , 



the Second British Army (Lt. Gen. Sir 
Miles C. Dempsey) , and the Ninth U.S. 
Army (General Simpson) . Soon after 
the Germans had struck in the Ar- 
dennes, the Ninth Army had extended 
its boundary southward to encompass 
much of the area originally held by the 
First U.S. Army, so that the boundary 
ran in the vicinity of Monschau. With 
the exception of the western portion of 
the Netherlands, where canals, rivers, 
dikes, and deep drainage ditches sharply 
compartment the land, this region of- 
fered the best route to the primary Allied 
objective, the Ruhr. The Ninth Army 
might strike directly toward the western 
base of the Ruhr, while the British and 
Canadians crossed the Rhine and gained 
access to the north German plain, there- 
by outflanking the Ruhr and at the 
same time opening a way toward Berlin. 

The Ardennes-Eifel, with its high 
ridges, deep-cut, serpentine streams, 
and dense forests, had never been tested 
by an army moving against opposition 
from west to east except during Septem- 
ber 1944, when an American corps had 
pushed as far as the German frontier. 
Even should the Allies elect to avoid the 
Eifel as a route of major advance, that 
portion of the high plateau known as 
the Ardennes still would have to be 
cleared of the enemy. The responsibility 
belonged to General Hodges' First 
Army, operating temporarily under the 
21 Army Group, and the Third Army 
(General Patton) . 

The Third Army's sector, some of 
which upon the start of the Ardennes 
counteroffensive had been relinquished 
to the adjacent Seventh U.S. Army 
(General Patch) , included, in addition 
to the Ardennes, a small portion of the 
line facing the Saar-Palatinate. This 



20 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



included the trough of the Moselle, a 
poor route of advance because it is 
narrow and meandering. That part of 
the Saar-Palatinate most open to attack 
lay opposite the Seventh Army from 
Saarlautern southeastward to the Rhine 
and encompassed two corridors leading 
northeast that have seen frequent use 
in wartime. Separated by a minor moun- 
tain chain called the Haardt, these are 
known usually as the Kaiserslautern and 
Wissernbourg Gaps. Both lead to the 
Rhine near Mainz, where, after con- 
verging, they continue as one past 
Frankfurt to Kassel. 

That part of the Allied line touching 
the Rhine — from Gambsheim to a point 
above Strasbourg — was the responsibil- 
ity of the First French Army (General 
de Lattre) . From the vicinity of Stras- 
bourg the French line swung southwest 
into the most rugged terrain on the 
Western Front, the high Vosges Moun- 
tains. Rising almost like a wall from the 
Alsatian Plain, the Vosges reach a height 
of almost 5,000 feet and in winter are 
covered with deep snows. In the Vosges 
and on the plain, the German-held 
Colmar pocket measured on its periph- 
ery about 130 miles. Even after clearing 
this pocket, the French would face ter- 
rain hardly less formidable; just across 
the Rhine stands the Schwarzwald, or 
Black Forest, which guards Germany 
much as the Vosges protect France. 

All along the front, with the excep- 
tion of the Maas-Waal line in the 
Netherlands and the 40-mile gap along 
the Roer, the Germans drew strength 
from their concrete border fortifications, 
the West Wall. Construction of this 
fortified line had begun in 1936, first to 
counter France's Maginot Line opposite 
the Saar, subsequently to protect almost 



the full length of Germany's western 
frontier. No thin line of elaborate, self- 
contained forts like the Maginot Line, 
the West Wall was a series of more than 
3,000 relatively small, mutually sup- 
porting pillboxes or blockhouses ar- 
ranged in one or two bands, depending 
on the critical nature of the terrain. 
Either natural antitank obstacles such 
as rivers or monolithic concrete projec- 
tions called dragon's teeth ran in front 
of the pillboxes. The strongest sectors 
of the line were around Aachen — al- 
ready breached — and in front of the 
Saar. Based on the principle of delaying 
an attacker, then ejecting hira with mo- 
bile reserves, the West Wall by 1945 
had lost much of its effectiveness, both 
from a lack of reserves and from the fact 
that many of the emplacements could 
not accommodate contemporary weap- 
ons. Yet as many an Allied soldier al- 
ready had learned, concrete in almost 
any form can lend real substance to a 
defense. 31 

Before the entire Allied front would 
rest on reasonably economical natural 
obstacles, and thus before the last offen- 
sive could develop in full force, four 
matters of unfinished business in addi- 
tion to reconquest of the Ardennes re- 
mained to be dealt with. First, the 
enemy's second winter counteroffensive, 
which had started on New Year's Eve in 
Alsace, would have to be contained and 
any gains wiped out. Second, the ene- 
my's hold-out position around Colmar 
would have to be erased. Third, the 
Germans would have to be driven from 
an angle formed by confluence of the 
Saar and Moselle Rivers, known as the 
Saar-Moselle triangle. And fourth, an- 

31 For a detailed description of the West Wall, 
see MacDonald, The Siegfried Line Campaign. 



PRELUDE TO VICTORY 



21 



other hold-out position in the north in 
an angle formed by juncture of the Roer 
and Maas Rivers, a so-called Heinsberg 
pocket, would have to be eliminated. 

Execution of the first two tasks, both 
in Alsace, would so occupy the Seventh 
U.S. and First French Armies, operating 
under General Devers's 6th Army 
Group, all through January and Febru- 
ary that only in March would these two 
armies be able to join the final drive. 32 
Elimination of the Saar-Moselle tri- 
angle, on the other hand, the Third 
Army would accomplish as a logical ex- 

w Smith, The Riviera to the Rhine. 



pansion of its developing role in the last 
offensive. Meanwhile, the British would 
eliminate the Heinsberg pocket before 
their assignment in the last offensive 
came due. 

Thus the birth of the last offensive 
occurred in January in the Ardennes. 
There the First Army at last could strike 
back at the forces that had hit without 
warning in December, and there the 
Third Army might reorient its opera- 
tions away from the local objective of 
succoring Bastogne to the broader as- 
signment of pushing in the bulge and 
driving to the Rhine. 



CHAPTER II 



Victory in the Ardennes 



"If you go into that death-trap of the 
Ardennes," General Charles Louis Marie 
Lanzerac reputedly told a fellow French 
officer in 1914, "you will never come 
out." 1 This remark for a long time 
typified the attitude of the French and 
their allies toward the Ardennes. It was 
a region to be avoided. 

For centuries before 1914, warfare, 
like commerce, had skirted the Ar- 
dennes to north or south; yet at the start 
of the Great War, Helmuth von Moltke, 
under influence of the Schlieffen Plan, 
had sent three armies totaling almost a 
million men directly through the Ar- 
dennes. Although not constituting the 
German main effort, these armies con- 
tributed to it by outflanking hasty Allied 
attempts to form a line against the main 
blow on the Belgian plain. In 1940, 
expecting a repetition of the 1914 
maneuver, the French had entrusted 
defense of the Ardennes to reserve divi- 
sions while concentrating their battle- 
worthy forces across the gateway to the 
plain. That had led to breakthrough by 
panzer columns at Sedan and Dinant. 

Although made against scattered op- 
position consisting sometimes of nothing 
more imposing than horse cavalry, these 
speedy German conquests tended to 



obscure the fact that the Ardennes is a 
major barrier presenting the most rug- 
ged face of any terrain from the Vosges 
Mountains to the North Sea. While the 
highest elevations are less than 2,500 
feet above sea level, deep and meander- 
ing defiles cut by myriad creeks and 
small rivers sharply restrict and canalize 
movement either along or across the 



1 For details on the military history and terrain 
of the Ardennes, see Charles B. MacDonald, "The 
Neglected Ardennes," Military Review, Vol. 43, No. 
4 (April 1963), pp. 74-89. 



grain of the land. (Map II) 

Properly a part of a vast, high plateau 
lying mostly inside Germany, the Ar- 
dennes and its contiguous region, the 
Eifel, are separated from the rest of the 
plateau by the accidents of the Moselle 
and Rhine Rivers. The Ardennes and 
Eifel are divided only by the artificial 
barrier of an international frontier. It 
was back across this frontier into the 
casemates of the West Wall and the for- 
ests cloaking them that the Allies had to 
drive the Germans before victory in the 
Ardennes might be consummated and 
the final offensive in Europe begun in 
earnest. 

The Ardennes encompasses all the 
grand duchy of Luxembourg, that part of 
southern and eastern Belgium bounded 
on the west and north by the gorge of 
the Meuse River, and a small portion 
of northern France. It can be divided 
into two unequal parts, the smaller Low 
Ardennes in the northwest, into which 
the winter counteroffensive had achieved 
only minor penetration, and the High 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



23 



or True Ardennes in the northeast, 
center, and south, covering some three- 
fourths of the entire region. 

Stretching westward from the German 
frontier in something of the shape of an 
isosceles triangle, the High Ardennes 
encompasses in its northern angle a 
marshy ridgeline near Spa and Malmedy 
called the Hohe Venn or Hautes Fanges, 
meaning high marshland. The highest 
point in the Ardennes is here (2,276 
feet) . Southwest of the Hohe Venn along 
the northwestern edge of the triangle is 
another stretch of high, marshy ground 
containing the headwaters of three pic- 
turesque rivers, the Plateau des Tailles. 
The central portion of the triangle, 
around Bastogne and Neufchateau, is 
high but less sharply incised than other 
portions. In the southwestern corner 
stands the Foret des Ardennes, or Ar- 
dennes Forest, a name which Americans 
with a penchant for generalized inaccu- 
racy gave to the entire region of the 
Ardennes. Across the border in Luxem- 
bourg lies sharply convoluted terrain 
that the natives with an eye toward tour- 
ism call la Petite Suisse or Little Swit- 
zerland. 

A picture-postcard pastoral region 
marked by few towns with populations 
of more than a few thousand, the 
Ardennes nevertheless has an extensive 
network of improved roads knotted to- 
gether at critical points such as Bas- 
togne and St. Vith, the latter in the 
northeast close to the German border. 
Like the general lay of the land, the 
major roads favor military movement 
from northeast to southwest, or the re- 
verse. By holding fast in front of the 
Hohe Venn, American troops in De- 
cember 1944 had denied the Germans 
roads in the north with more favorable 



orientation toward the German goal of 
Antwerp, forcing them into an all-out 
fight for Bastogne and roads emanating 
from that town to the northwest. As the 
Americans headed back toward the Ger- 
man frontier, the orientation of the 
roadnet would afford some advantage. 

In plunging out of the Eifel, the Ger- 
mans had attained their deepest pene- 
tration on Christmas Eve when armored 
spearheads got within four miles of the 
Meuse River. The bulge in American 
lines reached a maximum depth of not 
quite sixty miles. At the base, the bulge 
extended from near Monschau in the 
north to the vicinity of Echternach in 
the south, just under fifty miles. It en- 
compassed much of Little Switzerland, 
the Plateau des Tailles, and some of the 
more open highland around Bastogne; 
but it fell short of the two vital objec- 
tives, the Meuse and the Hohe Venn. 

American offensive reaction to the 
German blow had begun even before the 
penetration reached its high-water mark. 
As early as dawn of 22 December one 
division of the Third Army had opened 
limited objective attacks to stabilize the 
southern shoulder of the bulge near its 
base while an entire corps began a drive 
toward Bastogne. On Christmas Day an 
armored division of the First Army had 
wiped out the spearhead near the Meuse. 

As General Eisenhower on 19 Decem- 
ber had met with his top subordinates to 
plan opening countermoves, the obvious 
method was to attack simultaneously 
from north and south to saw off the pene- 
tration at its base close along the Ger- 
man border; but several considerations 
denied this approach. Still heavily in- 
volved trying to prevent expansion of 
the bulge to north and northwest, the 
First Army was in no position yet to hit 



24 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



the northern flank. Nor could the Third 
Army, which had to provide the troops 
for striking the southern flank, make 
available immediately enough divisions 
to do more than stabilize the southern 
flank and possibly relieve Bastogne. Be- 
cause Bastogne was the key to the road- 
net not only to the northwest but to 
southwest and south as well, and since 
nobody knew for sure at the time which 
way the Germans wanted to go, the need 
to hold Bastogne never came into ques- 
tion. 2 

This early commitment to relieving 
and reinforcing Bastogne in large meas- 
ure dictated the way the Allied command 
would go about eliminating the penetra- 
tion, a drive to squeeze the bulge at its 
waist rather than its base, then a turn to 
push in what was left. It was a conserva- 
tive approach but one necessitated, at 
least in the opening moves, by the sur- 
prise, early success, and persisting 
strength of the German assault. 

Yet once Bastogne was relieved on the 
26th, the way was open for another solu- 
tion, the classic though venturesome 
maneuver for eliminating a deep pene- 
tration, cutting it off at its base. This the 
Third Army commander, General Pat- 
ton, proposed, a drive by his army north 
and northeast from Luxembourg City 
into a westward-protruding portion of 
the Eifel to link with a complementary 
thrust by the First Army in the vicinity 
of Pruem, a road center a little over ten 
miles inside Germany, southeast of St. 
Vith. 3 

Although Patton's opposite on the 



2 For an account of early decisions, see Cole, The 
Ardennes, pp. 487-88, 509—10. 

3 Cole, The Ardennes, pp. 610-13, provides a de- 
tailed discussion of the deliberations. See also 
Pogue, The Supreme Command, pp. 383, 393. 



north flank, General Hodges of the First 
Army, agreed with this approach in prin- 
ciple, he advised against it because he 
deemed the roadnet close to the border 
in the north inadequate to sustain the 
large force, heavy in armor, that would 
be necessary for the cleaving blow essen- 
tial to a successful amputation. Nor did 
the 12th Army Group commander, Gen- 
eral Bradley, endorse it. Bradley was 
concerned about the effect of winter 
weather, both on the counterattack itself 
and on air support, and of the inhos- 
pitable terrain. He was worried too 
about a lack of reserves. Already the 6th 
Army Group had extended its lines dan- 
gerously to release the bulk of the Third 
Army for the fight in the Ardennes. 
Although the matter of reserves might 
have been remedied by greater commit- 
ment of British troops, the British com- 
mander who also controlled the First 
U.S. Army, Field Marshal Montgomery, 
wanted to avoid major realignment of 
British forces lest it unduly delay return 
to the scheduled main effort in the north 
against the Ruhr. 

On 28 December General Eisenhower 
met with Montgomery to plot the role 
of the First Army in the offensive. Al- 
ready in hand was General Bradley's 
view that the Third Army should strike 
not at the base of the bulge but from 
Bastogne generally northeast toward St. 
Vith. As formulated after earlier conver- 
sations with General Hodges and corps 
commanders of the First Army, Mont- 
gomery's decision was for the First Army 
to link with the Third Army at Houf- 
falize, nine miles northeast of Bastogne, 
then broaden the attack to drive gener- 
ally east on St. Vith. Noting that he was 
moving British units against the tip of 
the bulge to assist the First Army to con- 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



25 



centrate, Montgomery indicated that the 
attack was to begin within a day or two 
of the New Year. 

As the old year neared an end and the 
two American armies prepared their of- 
fensives, this was the picture around the 
periphery of the German penetration: 

From a point north of Monschau 
marking the boundary between the First 
and Ninth Armies, the sector of the V 
Corps (Maj. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow) 
extended southward as far as Elsenborn, 
thereby encompassing high ground serv- 
ing as an outpost for the Hohe Venn, 
then swung west along a deep-cut creek 
to Waimes, where V Corps responsibility 
yielded to the XVIII Airborne Corps 
(Maj. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway) . The 
line continued to follow the creek 
through Malmedy to Stavelot, thence 
along the Ambleve River for a mile or 
two to Trois Ponts. At that point, the 
forward trace extended cross-country to 
the southwest along no clearly defined 
feature. Where it cut across the Lienne 
River near Bra, the sector of the VII 
Corps (Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins) 
began. The VII Corps line extended 
southwest across the Bastogne-Liege 
highway to the Ourthe River near 
Hotton. 

The Ourthe was, temporarily, the 
First Army's right boundary. On the 
other side Field Marshal Montgomery 
had inserted under his direct command 
contingents of the 30 British Corps. Run- 
ning from the Meuse south of Dinant 
generally eastward to Houffalize, the 
boundary between the 21 and 12 th Army 
Groups split the bulge roughly in half. 

From the army group boundary south- 
east to St. Hubert, fifteen miles west of 
Bastogne, no formal line existed. Patrols 
of an American regiment hard hit early 



in the fighting, a reconnaissance squad- 
ron, and a French parachute battalion 
covered the sector, while a fresh Ameri- 
can airborne division backed it up from 
positions along the Meuse. The sector 
was part of the responsibility of the VIII 
Corps (Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton) , 
the corps that had been hardest hit by 
the opening blows of the counteroffen- 
sive. Serving at. this point under the 
Third Army, the main body of the VIII 
Corps was located between St. Hubert 
and Bastogne. 

In the sector of the VIII Corps, at 
Bastogne itself, and southeast of the 
town, the front was in a state of flux be- 
cause here General Patton had begun 
opening moves in his part of the offen- 
sive two days before the New Year. 
Charged with reaching the First Army 
at Houffalize, the VIII Corps was to pass 
to the west of Bastogne, then swing 
northeast on Houffalize. East and south- 
east of Bastogne, the III Corps (Maj. 
Gen. John Millikin) was to broaden to 
the east the corridor its armor had forged 
into the town, then continue northeast 
toward St. Vith. Holding the south flank 
of the bulge generally along the Sure 
River east to the German border, the 
XII Corps (Maj. Gen. Manton S. Eddy) 
was to join the offensive later. 4 

That these opening blows by the 
Third Army collided head on with a 
major German effort to sever the corri- 
dor into Bastogne, again encircle the 
town, and take it, contributed to the 
fluid situation prevailing there. Night 
was falling on the second day of the new 
year before the Americans around Bas- 
togne could claim that they had parried 

4 A detailed account of the first four days of the 
Third Army's offensive is provided in Cole, The 
Ardennes, ch. XXIV. 



26 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



what would turn out to be the stronger 
of two final German blows aimed at 
seizing the town. 

German dispositions within the bulge 
reflected the broad pattern shaped by 
early stages of the counteroffensive, plus 
the recent emphasis on taking Bastogne. 
Three infantry divisions on the south 
wing of the Fifteenth Army (General der 
Infanterie Gustav von Zangen) opposed 
the V Corps in the angle at the northern 
base of the bulge. The Sixth Panzer 
Army (Generaloberst der Waffen-SS 
Josef "Sepp" Dietrich) , comprising six 
divisions, opposed the XVIII Airborne 
Corps and the VII Corps. Opposite the 
British in the tip of the bulge and part 
of the VIII Corps were contingents of 
three divisions of the Fifth Panzer Army 
(General der Panzertruppen Hasso von 
Manteuffel) , while as a result of the ef- 
forts to capture Bastogne the bulk of 
that army — nine other divisions and a 
special armored brigade — was concen- 
trated around Bastogne and to the south- 
east of the town. The remainder of the 
southern flank was the responsibility of 
the Seventh Army (General der Panzer- 
truppen Erich Brandenberger) , whose 
five divisions and several separate units 
of battalion or Kampfgruppe (task 
force) size extended the line to the 
border near Echternach and southward 
along the frontier as far as the Moselle. 5 

The First Army's Attack 

As finally determined by Field Mar- 
shal Montgomery, the First Army's attack 
was to begin on 3 January. Since the 
troops around Bastogne had stopped a 
major German effort to take that town 

s Situation Map, OKW/WFSt Op (H) West (3), 
4 Jan 45. 



late on 2 January, the Third Army might 
be able to renew its offensive in earnest 
on the same day. 

A veteran force that had come ashore 
on the beaches of Normandy, liberated 
Paris, and penetrated the West Wall 
around Aachen, the First Army on the 
eve of resuming the offensive contained 
thirteen divisions. Included were three 
armored divisions, one of which had 
been badly mauled in a heroic defense 
of St. Vith and two of which had given 
as good as they took in later stages of the 
Ardennes fight. These two were old-style 
heavy divisions, the 2d and 3d. A loan of 
200 British Shermans had helped replace 
tank losses incurred in the December 
fighting, and all except a few files had 
been filled in infantry ranks. 

A calm — almost taciturn — infantry- 
man, General Hodges had assumed com- 
mand of the First Army in Normandy 
when General Bradley had moved up to 
army group. Shaken in the early days of 
the counteroffensive by what had hap- 
pened to his troops, Hodges had come 
back strong in a manner that drew praise 
from his British superior, Montgomery. 
Reflecting both Bradley's interest and his 
own, Hodges' staff was heavy on infantry- 
men, including the chief of staff, Maj. 
Gen. William G. Kean. Two of the three 
corps commanders then under the army, 
Generals Gerow and Collins, had long 
been members of the First Army's team, 
and both enjoyed a close rapport with 
Hodges. 

The burden of the First Army's attack 
was to fall on General Collins's VII 
Corps, which Montgomery had been 
carefully hoarding since early in the 
counteroffensive for just such a role. 
General Hodges directed this corps to ad- 
vance generally southeast between the 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 

Ourthe and Lienne Rivers to seize for- 
ward slopes of the high marshland of 
the Plateau des Tailles, which command 
the town of Houffalize. General Ridg- 
way's XVIII Airborne Corps meanwhile 
was to advance its right flank to conform 
with progress of the VII Corps while 
Gerow's V Corps held in place. Parts of 
two British divisions were to push in the 
bulge from the west, eventually to be 
pinched out short of Houffalize by the 
converging First and Third Armies. 

Heavily reinforced, the VII Corps con- 
tained almost a hundred thousand men, 
including the two armored divisions, 
three infantry divisions, and twelve field 
artillery battalions in addition to divi- 
sional artillery. Each infantry division 
had the normal attachments of a medi- 
um tank battalion and a tank destroyer 
battalion. 

Two of the infantry divisions, the 75th 
and 84th, held a 14-mile corps front ex- 
tending from the vicinity of Bra south- 
westward to the Ourthe near Hotton. In 
an attempt to trap those German troops 
still in the tip of the bulge, General Col- 
lins planned to open the attack with his 
two powerful armored divisions in hope 
of a swift penetration across the high 
marshland to his objective twelve miles 
to the southeast. As the armor passed 
through the infantry line, the 84th Di- 
vision was to follow the 2d Armored 
Division to mop up while the 83d In- 
fantry Division did the same for the 3d 
Armored. The 75th Division was to pass 
into corps reserve. 7 

The estimate of the enemy situation 



6 FUSA Ltr of Instrs, 1 Jan 45, FUSA Ltrs of In- 
strs file, Jan 45; First Army Rpt of Opns, 1 Aug 
44-22 Feb 45, pp. 126-27. 

'VII Corps FO 14, 2 Jan 45, VII Corps FO file, 
Jan 45. 



27 




General Hodges 



by the VII Corps G-2, Col. Leslie D. 
Carter, was basically correct. First con- 
cern of the Germans, Colonel Carter 
believed, was Bastogne. Until the south 
flank could be stabilized there, the Ger- 
mans to the west were liable to entrap- 
ment. A number of divisions that earlier 
had fought the VII Corps had moved 
south to help at Bastogne, their de- 
parture leaving Sixth Panzer Army a 
blunted residue of what had once been 
the steel skewer of the counteroffensive. 
Of the panzer army's six remaining di- 
visions, three under the // SS Panzer 
Corps (General der Waffen-SS Willi 
Bittrich) confronted the VII Corps: the 
12th Volks Grenadier Division opposite 
the left wing of the corps, the 560th 
Volks Grenadier Division in the center, 
and the 2d SS Panzer Division opposite 
the right wing. First-line German units, 



28 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



these divisions had taken sizable losses 
during the counteroffensive; strengths 
varied from 2,500 men in the 560th to 
6,000 in the panzer division. Preoccupa- 
tion with the Bastogne sector and with 
the new counteroffensive (NORD- 
WIND) in Alsace would restrict se- 
verely, Colonel Carter noted, the reserves 
that might oppose the American attack. 8 

What Colonel Carter could not know 
was that on the very eve of the First 
Army's attacks, German field command- 
ers were conceding defeat, not only in 
terms of the broad objectives of the 
counteroffensive, which as early as 
Christmas Eve they had come to accept, 
but also of the limited objective of taking 
Bastogne. The failure to sever the 
American corridor to Bastogne had con- 
vinced the commander of the Fifth Pan- 
zer Army, General von Manteuffel, that 
the time had come to abandon all 
thought of continuing the offensive in 
the Ardennes. Lest the troops farthest 
west be trapped, Manteuffel appealed 
late on 2 January to Field Marshal 
Model, commander of Army Group B, 
for permission to pull back to a line an- 
chored on Houffalize. 

Although Model apparently agreed 
professionally with Manteuffel, he was 
powerless to act because of Hitler's long- 
professed decree that no commander give 
up ground voluntarily unless Hitler him- 
self endorsed the move in advance, some- 
thing that seldom happened. Since the 
unsuccessful attempt on his life the pre- 
ceding July, the Fuehrer had come to 
accept any indication of withdrawal as 



8 VII Corps Annex 2 to FO 14 and Incl 1, VII 
Corps FO file, Jan 45; MS # A-924, Operation of 
Sixth Panzer Army, 1944-45 (Generalmajor der 
Waften-SS Fritz Kraemer, CofS, Sixth Panzer 
Army). 



evidence of defeatism, even treason. 
Model and even the Commander in 
Chief West, Field Marshal von Rund- 
stedt, had to live with the fiction that 
nobody ever withdrew. 

Even though Hitler himself the next 
day, 3 January, would issue his qualified 
admission of failure under the original 
concept in the Ardennes, he had arrived 
by this time at definite ideas of how the 
salient still might be turned to German 
advantage, and withdrawal had no part 
in the plan. Taking Bastogne did. De- 
spite the failure of the latest attempt, 
Model and his staff at Army Group B 
were compelled to continue planning for 
yet another attack on Bastogne, this to 
begin on 4 January. 9 

As the hour for American attack 
neared, the weather augury was anything 
but encouraging. It was bitterly cold. 
The ground was frozen and covered with 
snow. Roads were icy. A low, foglike 
overcast so restricted visibility that 
planned support from fighter-bombers of 
the IX Tactical Air Command (Maj. 
Gen. Elwood R. Quesada) was hardly to 
be assured. Yet since hope of improve- 
ment in the weather was dim, the attack 
was to proceed. Top commanders in the 
First Army had for some time been 
chafing to shift to the offensive lest the 
Third Army be called upon to do it all, 
and delay would give the Germans in the 
tip of the bulge that much more time 
to escape. 10 

'German material is from Cole, The Ardennes, 
pp. 647-48. See also MS # A-858, The Course of 
Events of the German Offensive in the Ardennes, 
16 Dec 1944-14 Jan 1945 (Maj. Percy E. Schramm, 
keeper of the OKW/WFSt War Diary). 

10 VII Corps AAR, Jan 45; Ltr, Bradley to 
Hodges, 26 Dec 44, 12th AGp 371.3, Military Objec- 
tives, vol. IV; Diary of Maj. William C. Sylvan, 
aide-de-camp to Gen Hodges (hereafter cited as 
Sylvan Diary) , entry of 2 Jan 45, copy in OCMH. 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



29 



Stretching all the way across the zone 
of attack of the VII Corps, the high 
marshes of the Plateau des Tailles added 
a third dimension to the obstacles of 
woods and deep-cut streambeds that are 
common in the Ardennes, thus making 
the roadnet the number one tactical ob- 
jective. Only one major road, the Liege- 
Houffalize-Bastogne highway, led di- 
rectly to any part of the objective. A web 
of secondary roads connecting the vil- 
lages in the region would have to serve 
as main avenues of advance despite 
numerous bridges, defiles, and hairpin 
turns. 

Preoccupation with roads was appar- 
ent from the first objectives assigned the 
armored divisions. Both were to aim at 
high ground commanding roads leading 
approximately four miles to the south- 
east to the La Roche-Salmchateau high- 
way, a lateral route from which a number 
of local roads in addition to the Liege- 
Bastogne highway provide access to the 
forward slopes of the Plateau des Tailles. 
On the left the 3d Armored Division 
(Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose) would have 
only one road at the start, while on the 
right the 2d Armored Division (Maj. 
Gen. Ernest N. Harmon) could employ 
both the main highway leading to Houf- 
falize and a secondary route to the 
southwest. Cutting the lateral La Roche- 
Salmchateau highway would eliminate 
one of only two escape routes left in this 
sector to the Germans still standing to 
the west. Seizing the high ground over- 
looking Houffalize would eliminate the 
other. 11 

Hardly had the van of the armor 
passed through the infantry line early on 

u Unless otherwise noted, the tactical story is 
based on the field orders, after action reports, and 
journals of the VII Corps and subordinate units. 




General Collins 



3 January when the hostile weather and 
terrain began to have effect. So foggy was 
the atmosphere that not a single tactical 
plane could support the attack at any 
time during the day. Observation by ar- 
tillery planes was possible for no more 
than an hour. It was a pattern that would 
undergo little change for the next fort- 
night. On only one day in two weeks 
would visibility allow tactical aircraft to 
operate all day; on only two other days 
would fighter-bombers be able to take to 
the air at all. 

Much of the time infantry and armor 
advanced through snow flurries inter- 
spersed with light rain on a few occasions 
when temperatures rose above freezing. 
During late afternoon and evening of 7 
January, a heavy snowfall added several 
inches to the cover already on the 
ground. Drifts piled in. some places to a 
depth of three to four feet. 

On the first day, the enemy from his 



30 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




General von Manteuffel 

outposts offered relatively light resist- 
ance, though antitank minefields hidden 
by the snow caused several delays and in 
late afternoon a force of infantry sup- 
ported by from six to ten tanks of the 2d 
SS Panzer Division counterattacked for- 
ward units on the right wing. On the 
next and succeeding days, resistance 
stiffened. Artillery, antitank, mortar, and 
Nebelwerfer fire increased. Battalion-size 
counterattacks supported by a few tanks 
or self-propelled guns increased too, 
though seldom did they accomplish more 
than to delay local advances for a few 
hours. 

The terrain and the weather were the 
big obstacles. Whenever the tanks found 
fairly level terrain, they could move 
cross-country over the frozen ground 
with some facility, but more often than 
not the ground was hilly, wooded, or 
marshy, confining the tanks to the icy 
roads. In advancing up a steep hill on 5 
January, eight tanks of a task force of 
the 2d Armored Division stalled in a row 



on the ice. Two antitank guns of the 84th 
Division and their prime movers skidded, 
jackknifed, collided, and effectively 
blocked a road for several hours. Two 
trucks towing 105 -mm. howitzers skidded 
and plunged off a cliff. 




Field Marshal Model 



Deliberate roadblocks consisting of 
felled trees with antitank mines em- 
bedded on the approaches usually could 
be eliminated only by dismounted in- 
fantry making slow, sometimes costly 
flanking moves through adjacent woods. 
In other cases, blown bridges blocked the 
routes. Sometimes fords or bypasses to 
other roads were available, but usually 
infantrymen had to wade an icy stream 
and create a small bridgehead while 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



31 



tanks awaited construction of a new 
bridge. Because bridge sites seldom could 
be cleared immediately of enemy fire, 
engineers did most of their work after 
darkness blinded German gunners. 

Advances on the first day against the 
enemy's outposts averaged about two 
miles, but progress slowed on succeeding 
days. Facing the bulk of the German 
armor in this sector, the 2d Armored 
Division on the right encountered par- 
ticularly stubborn German stands on 
both its routes of advance. When the 
neighboring 3d Armored on the third 
day, 6 January, cut the lateral La Roche- 
Salmchateau highway, General Collins 
sent part of the division westward to seize 
the intersection with the main highway 
to Houffalize in an effort to loosen the 
opposition in front of the other division. 
It was late the next day before the 
Americans gained the intersection, which 
they knew as Parker's Crossroads after 
the commander of a task force that had 
made an epic stand there during the 
winter counteroffensive. This did the 
job expected; late on the same day, the 
7th, a task force of the 2d Armored Di- 
vision also cut the La Roche-Salmcha- 
teau road. 

Artillery was hamstrung throughout 
by poor observation resulting from the 
weather, the woods, and the broken 
ground. Since weather denied air support 
on the opening day, General Collins can- 
celed a preliminary artillery bombard- 
ment as well in hope of gaining some 
advantage from surprise. Artillery sub- 
sequently averaged about 19,000 rounds 
a day. Each armored division expended 
about 7,000 rounds daily, corps guns 
fired another 3,500 rounds, and infantry 
divisional artillery and British pieces 



west of the Ourthe provided additional 
support. 

While the role of the infantry divisions 
was nominally supporting, it turned out 
to be more than that. In the main the 
83d and 84th Divisions were to mop up 
bypassed resistance, but when the first 
shock of the armor failed to produce a 
penetration, the role of the infantry in- 
creased. Both divisions from the first 
contributed a regiment each for attach- 
ment to the armor, and before the fight- 
ing was over both would incur appreci- 
ably greater casualties than either of the 
armored divisions. 

For all the grudging nature of the 
defense, the enemy produced few sur- 
prises. Through the first week, full re- 
sponsibility for defense lay with the 
three units of the Sixth Panzer Army 
previously identified, the 2d SS Panzer 
and 12th and 560th Volks Grenadier 
Divisions. At times, the panzer division 
loaned some of its tanks to neighboring 
infantry units, as on 5 January when four 
tanks reinforced a battalion of the 12th 
Volks Grenadier Division in an effort to 
retake a hill from the 3d Armored Di- 
vision. The only outside help came from 
assorted engineer and low-grade replace- 
ment battalions. By the end of the week 
all three German divisions were reduced 
on occasion to using artillerymen and 
other supporting troops as infantry. 

Near the end of the first week, on 8 
January, Hitler at last authorized a with- 
drawal, not all the way back to a line 
anchored on Houffalize as General von 
Manteuffel had urged but only out of 
the extreme tip of the bulge to a line 
anchored on a great eastward loop of the 
Ourthe River some five miles west of 
Houffalize. Because of the point at 
which Hitler drew the withdrawal line, 



32 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



only a few troops of the Sixth Panzer 
Army, those on the extreme west wing 
near La Roche, were involved. Those 
authorized to withdraw were mainly con- 
tingents of the Fifth Panzer Army facing 
the British and the U.S. VIII Corps west 
of Bastogne. 

While the units of the Sixth Panzer 
Army were to continue to hold, Die- 
trich's headquarters was to pull out, 
gradually relinquishing control to the 
Fifth Panzer Army. Thereupon, the two 
SS panzer corps headquarters and four 
SS panzer divisions that originally had 
belonged to the Sixth Panzer Army were 
to join Dietrich's headquarters in the 
rear near St. Vith, there to form a re- 
serve to guard against attacks near the 
base of the bulge. This was, in effect, 
tacit admission — Hitler's first — that the 
Ardennes counteroffensive had failed 
utterly. 12 

Reflecting the withdrawal, resistance 
on the right wing of the VII Corps 
gradually slackened. Patrols on the 10th 
entered La Roche, while British troops 
on the opposite bank of the Ourthe re- 
ported no contact with the enemy. Al- 
though the British re-established contact 
on subsequent days, they met only light 
covering detachments and, in keeping 
with Montgomery's desire to avoid major 
British commitment, pressed their ad- 
vance only enough to spare the Ameri- 
cans flanking fire from Germans west of 
the Ourthe. 

The fight was as dogged as ever on the 
other wing, where in deference to marshy 
ground and an impoverished roadnet 
leading to the final objectives on the 
southeastern slopes of the Plateau des 

33 Magna E. Bauer, The German Withdrawal 
From the Ardennes, prepared to complement this 
volume, annotated copy in OCMH. 



Tallies, the 83d Division (Maj. Gen.. 
Robert C. Macon) on 9 January assumed 
the assault role on the left wing of the 
VII Corps. It took the infantry two days 
to break into and clear a village south of 
the La Roche-Salmch&teau highway and 
another day to beat off counterattacks. 
Not until forcibly rooted out would the 
Germans budge from any position. 

At the same time, the 82d Airborne 
Division (Maj. Gen. James M. Gavin) 
of General Ridgway's XVIII Airborne 
Corps had the job of protecting the left 
flank of the VII Corps. To do this, the 
airborne division was to press forward 
to the line of the Salm River, which like 
the Lienne and the Ourthe has its source 
in the Plateau des Tailles. 13 

Assisted by an attached separate regi- 
ment, the 517th Parachute Infantry, the 
airborne division jumped off along with 
the VII Corps on 3 January. Like the 
armored divisions, the paratroopers and 
glidermen met resistance immediately 
from the weather, the terrain, and, to a 
lesser extent, the enemy. The roadnet 
was even more restricted than in front 
of the VII Corps, and a thick forest 
stretched across the center of the di- 
vision's zone. 

Possibly because the enemy relied too 
heavily on the forest as an obstacle, the 
82d's 505th Parachute Infantry found 
relatively few defenders. In three days 
the paratroopers advanced four miles to 
reach the far edge of the forest overlook- 
ing the valley of the Salm. 

Close alongside the boundary with the 
VII Corps, the 517th Parachute Infantry 
made only limited progress until it 
turned abruptly on 7 January to take the 
enemy in flank. The next day the para- 

13 The tactical story is from official records of the 
XVIII Airborne Corps and subordinate units. 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



33 



troopers drove all Germans before them 
east of the Salm and sent patrols to 
range as far as two miles beyond the 
river. On the gth they established a small 
bridgehead across the Salm to be used as 
a stepping stone when the offensive 
turned in the direction of St. Vith. 

Another division of the XVIII Air- 
borne Corps, the 30th (Maj. Gen. Leland 
S. Hobbs) did much the same thing. 
On 6 January the division began limited 
objective attacks with an attached regi- 
ment, the 28th Division's 112th Infantry, 
to forge a bridgehead two miles deep 
in an angle formed by the joining of the 
Salm and Ambleve Rivers. 

Resistance in the zone of the VII Corps 
continued stiffest opposite the left wing 
along a land bridge between headwaters 
of the Salm and the Ourthe. There the 
Germans occupied a forest mass in 
strength with contingents of the pth SS 
Panzer Division moving in to support a 
faltering 12th Volks Grenadier Division. 
The infantry of the 83d Division still was 
finding the going slow when the 3d 
Armored Division's Reconnaissance Bat- 
talion discovered a network of back roads 
and trails less staunchly defended. 

The reconnaissance troops having 
shown the way, the division commander, 
General Rose, early on 13 January sent 
a combat command to trace the route, 
break out of the woods, and cut the 
lateral highway that follows the forward 
slopes of the Plateau des Tailles en route 
from Houffalize toward St. Vith. Al- 
though the Germans still made a fight of 
it for towns along the highway, the cut 
by the armor effectively blocked this last 
major route of escape for German troops 
in the vicinity of Houffalize. 

As night fell on the 13th, men of the 
VII Corps could see to the south light- 



ninglike flashes of artillery pieces sup- 
porting the Third Army. Patrols 
prepared to probe in that direction the 
next day, eager to end the separation the 
counteroffensive had imposed between 
the First and Third Armies. 

Getting this far had cost the VII Corps 
almost 5,000 casualties, a high but hardly 
alarming figure in view of the harsh 
weather and terrain. Although fighting 
a deliberate withdrawal action with de- 
termination and skill, the Germans had 
lost several hundred more than that in 
prisoners alone. 

A Grim Struggle Around Bastogne 

Having collided head on with another 
German effort to capture Bastogne, the 
Third Army's four-day-old offensive had 
reached, on the eve of the First Army's 
attack, positions that mirrored a combi- 
nation of American and German inten- 
tions. Making a main effort against the 
corridor southeast of Bastogne, Manteuf- 
fel's Fifth Panzer Army with some help 
from the right wing of Brandenberger's 
Seventh Army had managed to retain or 
establish positions that formed a salient 
four miles wide and four miles deep into 
lines of the Third Army's III Corps. 
That the salient was no deeper repre- 
sented a defensive triumph for the III 
Corps but at the same time marked a fail- 
ure thus far of this phase of General 
Patton's offensive. East and north of 
Bastogne, a line roughly three miles from 
the town that stalwart soldiers of the 
101st Airborne Division and assorted 
lesser units had established and held 
through the days of encirclement re- 
mained intact. Against a German attack 
west and southwest of Bastogne, troops 
of the VIII Corps had managed not only 



34 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



to contain the thrust but also to make 
gains of their own, so that by nightfall of 
2 January the front line ran generally 
west from Bastogne toward St. Hubert. 14 

As the Third Army prepared to con- 
tinue its offensive, the original plan re- 
mained unchanged. While the III Corps 
advanced generally northeast, in the 
process eliminating the salient southeast 
of Bastogne, the VIII Corps was to pivot 
on the town and swing northeast to estab- 
lish contact with the First Army's VII 
Corps at Houffalize. 

Intending to return to the offensive on 
4 January, the Germans proposed a 
change in their approach. Although 
Rundstedt at OB WEST ordered an- 
other attempt to sever the corridor into 
Bastogne, Field Marshal Model at Army 
Group B pleaded that the Americans had 
become so strong around the salient 
southeast of the town and had confined 
it so tightly that no additional German 
units could be inserted. Model suggested 
instead an attack to push in the northern 
and northeastern periphery of the Bas- 
togne defense. There the ground was 
more suited to tank warfare and General 
von Manteuffel might employ the / SS 
Panzer Corps (Generalleutnant der 
Waffen-SS Hermann Priess) with the gth 
and 12th SS Panzer Divisions and the 
Fuehrer Grenadier Brigade, the last an 
elite unit originally drawn from Hitler's 
household guard, consisting of a bat- 
talion each of tanks, panzer grenadiers, 
and foot soldiers. 15 

Possibly because Model was one of the 
Fuehrer's more faithful disciples among 
top commanders, Hitler listened to this 
change. What mattered to the Fuehrer 
was not how Bastogne was taken but that 



it be taken. As revealed on 3 January 
when he acknowledged that the counter- 
offensive would not gain Antwerp or 
even the Meuse, Hitler required Bas- 
togne as a vital anchor for holding the 
bulge. Bastogne's nexus of roads was 
essential for securing the southern flank 
and thus for helping the Sixth Panzer 
Army to resist the American offensive 
from the north that had begun that day. 

In creating the bulge in the Ardennes, 
Hitler reasoned, he had forced General 
Eisenhower to employ almost all his re- 
sources. The desperate commitment of 
elite airborne divisions to brutal defen- 
sive battles was in Hitler's mind proof 
enough of that. By holding the bulge, 
the Germans might keep the Allies 
widely stretched while pulling out some 
of their own units to attack at weak 
points along the extended Western Front 
and thereby prevent the Allies from con- 
centrating for a major drive. Operation 
NORDWIND in Alsace, Hitler ration- 
alized, was the first of these intended 
strikes; yet only with Bastogne in hand 
was the new stratagem practical in the 
long run. 16 

As finally determined, the main effort 
of the new attack on Bastogne by the / 
SS Panzer Corps was to be made astride 
the Houffalize highway. Since some units 
would arrive too late to attack early on 
the 4th, only the pth Panzer and 26th 
Volks Grenadier Divisions west of the 
highway were to attack at first, this in 
midmorning, while the 12th SS Panzer 
Division and a unit that only recently 
had been brought into the Ardennes 
from the Aachen sector, the 340th Volks 
Grenadier Division, attacked at noon 
along the east side of the highway. The 



11 See Cole, The Ardennes, ch. XXIV and Map X. 
"MS # A-858 (Schramm). 



18 Ibid. 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



35 



Fuehrer Grenadier Brigade was to serve 
as a reserve. The XLVII Panzer Corps 
(General der Panzertruppen Heinrich 
Freiherr von Luettwitz) west of Bastogne 
and the divisions in the salient southeast 
of the town were to hold in place, coun- 
terattacking in strength where necessary 
to maintain their positions or assist the 
main attack. 17 

Having fought through early stages of 
the counteroffensive as part of the Sixth 
Panzer Army, all divisions of General 
Priess's / SS Panzer Corps except the 
340th had taken heavy losses. Between 
them the two SS panzer divisions had 55 
tanks, only one more than normally sup- 
ported every U.S. infantry division. Al- 
though one of the so-called Volks Ar- 
tillery Corps that Hitler had created 
especially for the counteroffensive was 
to be moved in to strengthen existing 
artillery, a shortage of gasoline made it 
problematical when this force and even 
some of the subordinate units of the 
panzer and volks grenadier divisions 
would arrive. 

Top commanders hid their concern, 
but neither Manteuffel, who already had 
recommended stopping all attacks in the 
Ardennes, nor his superior, Model, held 
out much hope for the new attack. This 
state of mind was clearly indicated when 
they released without protest to OB 
WEST for transfer to Alsace the corps 
headquarters that had been controlling 
the divisions in the salient southeast of 
Bastogne. If the superior forces the Ger- 
mans previously had employed at Bas- 
togne against limited American strength 

"MS # B-779, The / SS Panzer Corps During 
the Ardennes Offensive, 15 December 1944-25 Jan- 
uary 1945 (Col Rudolf Lehmann, CofS); MS # A- 
939, The Assignment of the XLVII Panzer Corps 
in the Ardennes, 1944-45 (General der Panzertrup- 
pen Heinrich von Luettwitz). 



had failed, what hope with makeshift 
forces now that the Americans had 
sharply increased their commitment? 18 
For renewing the Third Army's of- 
fensive around Bastogne, General Patton 
had eight divisions. East and southeast 
of the town, Millikin's III Corps had 
three veteran units, the 6th Armored and 
26th and 35th Infantry Divisions. Hold- 
ing part of Bastogne's old perimeter de- 
fense to north and northwest, the 101st 
Airborne Division with an attached com- 
bat command of the 10th Armored Di- 
vision was the only readily available 
experienced force in Middleton's VIII 
Corps. Middleton had in addition the 
17th Airborne Division and two new- 
comers to the front, the nth Armored 
and 87th Divisions, which General Brad- 
ley had specifically directed to be em- 
ployed at Bastogne lest Patton stint the 
offensive there in favor of his cherished 
drive near the base of the bulge. 19 In the 
four days of fighting preceding renewal 
of the offensive on 3 January, the 87th 
and the armor had taken substantial 
losses, leaving the armored division 
"badly disorganized" after loss of a third 
of its tanks. 20 To enable the armor to 
catch its breath, the new airborne di- 
vision was to enter the line on 3 January. 
Meanwhile, an eighth division, the vet- 
eran 4th Armored, had been pulled into 



18 MSS # B-779 (Lehmann); # B-i5ia, Fifth 
Panzer Army, Ardennes Offensive (General der 
Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel); # A-940, 
XLVII Panzer Corps in the Ardennes Offensive 
(General der Panzertruppen Heinrich von Luet- 
twitz). See also Charles von Luttichau, Key Dates 
During the Ardennes Offensive 1944, Part II, MS 
prepared to complement this volume, copy in 
OCMH. 

19 On this point, see Cole, The Ardennes, pp. 
612-13. 

20 Army Commander's Notes on the Bastogne 
Operation, TUSA AAR, 1 Aug 44-8 May 45. 



36 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



reserve after its tank strength had fallen 
dangerously low as a result of heavy 
fighting through much of December. 

The remaining six of a total of four- 
teen divisions in the Third Army were 
split equally between Eddy's XII Corps 
along the generally quiescent line of the 
Sure River running eastward to the Ger- 
man frontier and Maj. Gen. Walton H. 
Walker's XX Corps. The latter had not 
been drawn into the Ardennes fight and 
continued to hold positions in Lor- 
raine. 21 

The Third Army and its veteran com- 
mander, George Patton, had entered the 
campaign in France in early August to 
exploit the breakout from Normandy 
engineered by Hodges' First Army. 
While one corps turned westward against 
the ports of Brittany, the bulk of the 
army had driven swiftly eastward across 
northern France until a gasoline drought 
forced a halt at the border of Lorraine. 
Through the fall Patton's troops had 
fought doggedly across water-logged ter- 
rain to gain a small foothold within the 
West Wall at Saarlautern just as the 
Ardennes counteroffensive began. While 
the XX Corps continued to hold that 
position, Patton had turned the rest of 
his army toward Bastogne. 

Despite General Patton's affinity for 
armor, most of his staff and his corps 
commanders were infantrymen, includ- 
ing Eddy of the XII Corps, an old-timer 
with the Third Army; Walker of the XX 
Corps, another old-timer; and Middleton 
of the VIII Corps, whose command had 
made the sweep into Brittany before 
joining the First Army for a rendezvous 
with fate in the Ardennes and then a 



return to the Third Army. Only Patton's 
chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Hobart R. Gay, 
and General Millikin of the III Corps, 
a relative newcomer to the Third Army, 
had been commissioned as cavalrymen. 

Bitterly cold, stung by biting winds 
and driving snow, American troops on 
the frozen ground around Bastogne saw 
little change on 3 January in a pattern 
too long familiar. Many of the German 
units had fought here since before Christ- 
mas, such respected names as the 3d and 
15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions, the $th 
Parachute Division, the 1st SS Panzer 
Division, and the Panzer Lehr Division, 
the last so called because it originally had 
been a training unit. The place names 
too, after more than a fortnight of grim 
combat, were accustomed: Marvie, 
Wardin, Mageret, Longvilly, Oubourcy, 
Noville, Longchamps. So was the tactic 
of almost every attack followed by an im- 
mediate German riposte, intense shelling 
preceding a seemingly inevitable tank- 
supported counterattack. 22 

Early on the 3d the Germans sur- 
rounded a company of the 87th Division 
(Brig. Gen. John M. Lentz) on the west 
flank of the VIII Corps, though a relief 
column broke through before the day 
was out. In the afternoon tanks and in- 
fantry hit the 101st Airborne Division 
(Maj. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor) at Long- 
champs and south of Noville, achieving 
some penetration at both places before 
the paratroopers rallied to re-establish 
their lines. Only the 6th Armored Di- 
vision (Maj. Gen. Robert W. Grow) on 
the left wing of the III Corps generally 
east of Bastogne made any appreciable 
gain, an advance of from one to two 



21 The depleted 28th Division and a combat com- 
mand of the 9th Armored Division were awaiting 
transfer from the Third Army. 



22 This account is from official unit records. Ger- 
man material is from manuscripts previously cited. 




Wind-Swept Snow in the Ardennes 



miles that took the battered villages of 
Oubourcy, Mageret, and Wardin. 

The renewed German attempt to seize 
Bastogne began before dawn on the 4th 
when a regiment of the 15th Panzer 
Grenadier Division attacked Long- 
champs in a token assist by Leuttwitz's 
XLVII Panzer Corps to a main assault 
that began a few hours later close by the 
road from Houffalize. Combat raged in 
this sector all morning, but at noon 
counterattacking paratroopers still main- 
tained their hold on Longchamps, and 
intense artillery fire delivered in open, 
snow-covered fields had driven back 



tanks and assault guns of the pth SS 
Panzer Division. The airborne troops 
and their armored support claimed to 
have destroyed during the day thirty-four 
German tanks. 

East of the Houffalize highway and 
east of Bastogne, the 12th SS Panzer 
and 340th Volks Grenadier Divisions 
achieved greater success in the main 
German assault. Tank against tank, the 
German armor forced the 6th Armored 
Division to relinquish, all three villages 
taken the day before, but once the 
American tanks had pulled back to high 
ground west of the villages the Germans 



38 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



could make no more headway. Here and 
elsewhere artillery pieces of the III and 
VIII Corps shared their power in 
moments of crisis to deal telling blows 
whenever the Germans massed and 
moved into the open. 

From the moment the 6th Armored 
Division halted the panzers, the fighting 
around Bastogne again reverted to pat- 
tern. In combat as bitter as any during 
the counteroffensive, attack followed 
counterattack on both sides until it was 
scarcely possible to distinguish which was 
which. 

Handicapped by piecemeal commit- 
ment of tardily arriving subordinate 
units, the / SS Panzer Corps could do 
little more than maintain the minor 
gains achieved against American armor 
on the 4th. West of Bastogne the XLVII 
Panzer Corps reacted so strongly to 
American efforts to renew the attack on 
the 4th with the inexperienced i 7th Air- 
borne Division (Maj. Gen. William M. 
Miley) that the division had to spend 
the next two days reorganizing and ad- 
justing its positions. ("God, how green 
we are," said one regimental commander, 
"but we are learning fast and the next 
time we will beat them.") 23 

Nor could the infantry divisions of 
General Millikin's III Corps make any 
headway against the salient southeast of 
Bastogne. Late on the 5th Maj. Gen. 



23 Third Army Diary kept by Gen Gay, entry of 
5 Jan 45, quoting Col James R. Pierce, 194th Glider 
Infantry. As two German tanks counterattacked a 
company of the 513th Parachute Infantry on 4 
January, Staff Sgt. Isadore S. Jachman seized a 
bazooka from a fallen comrade, ran to a position 
close to the tanks, and opened fire. He damaged 
one and prompted both to retire but himself died 
of wounds incurred in the fight. A German-born 
U.S. citizen, Sergeant Jachman was awarded the 
Medal of Honor posthumously. 



Paul W. Baade reluctantly asked and 
received permission to call off the attack 
in the southern part of his 35th Di- 
vision's front; such a battle of attrition 
had it become that his men could hope to 
do no more for the moment than hold 
their own. 

As was the case with the First Army, 
the Third Army could count on little 
help from its supporting aircraft of the 
XIX Tactical Air Command (Brig. Gen. 
Otto P. Weyland) . So dismal was the 
weather that only briefly on one day, 5 
January, were planes able to operate. In 
one way this was a blessing, since the 
weather also cut short a resurgence that 
had begun around Bastogne a few days 
earlier by a long-dormant Luftwaffe. 

For all the success in blunting the 
German thrust on the 4th, few Ameri- 
cans viewed the situation with any com- 
placency. Visiting the front late on the 
4th during a German artillery bombard- 
ment, the army commander, General 
Patton, noted to himself glumly, "We 
can still lose this war." 24 The com- 
mander of the VIII Corps, General Mid- 
dleton, kept close personal rein on his 
division commanders and alerted the de- 
pleted 4th Armored and the 11th 
Armored Divisions to be prepared to 
move swiftly to the aid of either or both 
of the airborne divisions. 

Unknown to the American command, 
any crisis engendered by the German 
attack had passed by nightfall of 5 Jan- 
uary. Late on that day Field Marshal 
Model tacitly admitted failure at Bas- 
togne by ordering General von Manteuf- 
fel to release the 9th SS Panzer Division 
to go to the aid of the Sixth Panzer Army 



24 George S. Patton, Jr., War As I Knew It (Bos- 
ton: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1947), p. 213. 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



39 



in its hour of trial against the American 
offensive from the north. The next day 
Manteuffel took it upon himself to order 
the 12th Panzer Division to pull out of 
the line the night of the 7th to constitute 
a reserve. 

Sensing as early as the 6th that the 
Germans soon might begin to withdraw, 
General Patton for all his concern about 
the bitterness of the fight deplored the 
possibility. Only the day before he had 
acquiesced in the artful persuasion of 
General Bradley to move a newly avail- 
able division from the XX Corps to the 
salient southeast of Bastogne rather than 
to use it in a strike against the base of 
the bulge. Still hoping to mount an 
attack against the base, Patton worried 
now lest the Germans make good their 
escape before he could act. 25 

Despite the exodus of German armor, 
American troops found no evidence on 
7 and 8 January of German intent to 
withdraw. Although the U.S. divisions 
around the salient postponed further 
attacks to await arrival of the new di- 
vision, patrols found the enemy as full 
of fight as ever. The 17 th Airborne and 
87th Divisions meanwhile renewed their 
attacks on both days with the usual vio- 
lent German reaction. 

For the 87th, trying to break into the 
crossroads settlement of Tillet, midway 
between Bastogne and St. Hubert, the 
fighting proved bitterly frustrating as 
every attempt met sharp riposte from the 
Fuehrer Begleit Brigade, another elite 
unit heavy in armor that also had been 



25 Ibid.; Army Commander's Notes on the Bas- 
togne Operation. 



created from Hitler's household guard. 28 
Although a regiment of the 17th Air- 
borne Division entered Flamierge along 
a major highway leading northwest from 
Bastogne, the 3d Panzer Grenadier Di- 
vision counterattacked late on the 7th 
and again early on the 8th, trapping the 
bulk of a battalion in the town. Most of 
the able-bodied paratroopers eventually 
escaped by infiltrating to the rear, but 
they had to leave their wounded behind. 

As divisions of the III Corps rejoined 
the offensive on the 9th, any evidence of 
German withdrawal still was hard to 
come by, despite Hitler's approval on the 
8th for troops in the tip of the bulge to 
pull back. Hitler's authorization affected 
only units west of Bastogne in any case, 
since the new line he ordered to be held 
ran generally northwest from Long- 
champs toward the eastward bend of the 
Ourthe. Even the affected units made no 
precipitate exodus but instead executed 
the kind of gradual, grudging withdrawal 
that nobody did better than the Germans 
with their penchant for counterattack 
whenever and wherever a position ap- 
proached the untenable. 

Not until the third day of the renewed 
offensive, 1 1 January, did any firm indi- 
cations of withdrawal develop. On the 
west wing of the VIII Corps, the 87th 
Division after finally having entered 
Tillet the night before found the Ger- 
mans pulling back, abandoning St. Hu- 
bert and several smaller towns but 
leaving behind rear guards, roadblocks, 



26 Near Tillet, Staff Sgt. Curtis F. Shoup of the 
87th Division's 346th Infantry charged head on 
against a German machine gun, firing his auto- 
matic rifle as he went. Although German fire cut 
him down, he mustered strength as he died to hurl 
a hand grenade that knocked out the enemy gun. 
He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthu- 
mously. 



40 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



and deadly quilts of mines. At the same 
time, southeast of Bastogne, men of the 
III Corps saw their enemy also beginning 
to give ground in the face of an envelop- 
ing movement against his salient that 
imposed a forced rather than intentional 
retreat. 

On 9 January a newly arrived but 
veteran 90th Infantry Division (Maj. 
Gen. James A. Van Fleet) attacked to the 
northeast through positions of the 26th 
Division (Maj. Gen. Willard S. Paul) 
along the southeastern fringe of the Ger- 
man salient, while the 6th Armored Di- 
vision, later reinforced by a regiment of 
the 35th Division, tried a converging 
attack from the northwest. The axis of 
advance for both drives was a ridge road 
running southeast from Bastogne that 
served as a watershed for the little Wiltz 
River along the base of the salient. 

Having arrived under a heavy cloak 
of secrecy, the 90th Division on the first 
day took the enemy's 5th Parachute Di- 
vision by surprise. Even though a snow- 
storm denied air support and turned 
roads into slick chutes, the attack on the 
9th carried just over a mile and the next 
day reached high ground commanding 
the only road leading out of the salient. 
The Germans, despite a stalwart stand 
denying progress in the converging at- 
tack from the northwest, had no choice 
but to abandon the salient. 

They began to retire the night of the 
10th. On the l ith and again on the 12th, 
as infantrymen of the 90th Division 
shook hands with colleagues of the 35th 
Division on the other side of the salient, 
the Americans took over a thousand 
prisoners. Pulling back to the Wiltz 
River where the cuts, fills, and tunnels 
of a railroad aided the defense along a 
natural extension of the line of the Sure 



River, the survivors of the salient joined 
a hastily committed reserve, the Fuehrer 
Grenadier Brigade, to hold fast. 27 From 
the American viewpoint, this mattered 
little, since emphasis shifted at this point 
to the left wing of the III Corps where 
Millikin's troops were to aid the drive 
of the VIII Corps toward a linkup with 
the First Army at Houffalize. 28 

Despite German withdrawal on the ex- 
treme west wing of the VIII Corps, the 
going was slow. Disorganized in the bit- 
ter give-and-take west of Bastogne to the 
extent that the corps commander had 
asked Patton to delay renewed attack, the 
17th Airborne and 87th Divisions pushed 
forward with little verve. Yet their snail- 
like pace made small difference in the 
end, because the veteran 101st Airborne 
Division could make only measured 
progress astride the road to Houffalize, 
where advance had to be swift if any 
Germans were to be trapped farther west. 
A relatively fresh 340th Volks Grenadier 
Division, plus counterattacking contin- 
gents of the 3d Panzer Grenadier and 
12th SS Panzer Divisions, insured not 
only firm but often dogged resistance. 

The most encouraging progress on the 
direct route toward Houffalize appeared 
about to develop on 10 January east of 
the main highway as General Middleton 
inserted a combat command of the 4th 



27 MS # A-876, Ardennes Offensive of Seventh 
Army, 16 December 1944-25 January 1945 (Gen- 
eral der Panzertruppen Erich Brandenberger). 

28 In an attack in this sector on 1 1 January, a 
squad leader in the 6th Armored Division's gth 
Armored Infantry Battalion, Staff Sgt. Archer T. 
Gammon, charged ahead of his platoon to knock 
out two German machine guns and to close in 
with such daring on a German tank that the tank 
began to withdraw. Firing its 88-mm. gun as it re- 
tired, the tank killed the intrepid soldier with a 
direct hit. Sergeant Gammon was awarded the 
Medal of Honor posthumously. 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



41 



Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Hugh J. 
Gaffey) along the corps boundary to 
seize Bourcy. Located on high ground 
commanding the highway to Houffalize 
where it passed through Noville, an 
enemy strongpoint, Bourcy in American 
hands might unhinge the defenses along 
the highway. Yet hardly had the armor 
begun to advance early on the 10th when 
General Patton called a halt. 

Having shared in the failure to guess 
the enemy's intent to launch a counter- 
offensive in the Ardennes, intelligence 
staffs at SHAEF and the 12th Army 
Group these days were seeing burglars 
under every bed. They were concerned 
lest the Germans spoil the American 
offensive by counterattacking from posi- 
tions near the base of the bulge south- 
ward toward Luxembourg City or at 
some point to the southeast where 
American lines had been thinned to pro- 
vide forces for the Ardennes. General 
Bradley ordered Patton to pull out an 
armored division to guard against this 
threat. Seeing no burglars himself, Gen- 
eral Patton filled the requirement by 
selecting the 4th Armored Division, 
which needed a rest for refitting any- 
way. 29 

General Bradley directed further that 
Patton halt the attack of the VIII Corps 
immediately and that of the III Corps 
when it reached a logical stopping point. 
Only after the German threat (based, 
Patton believed, more on rumor than 
solid intelligence) failed to materialize 
did Bradley on the 12 th give approval 
for the Third Army to resume the of- 

29 Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 217; Gay Diary, 
entry of 10 Jan 45; Leonard Rapport and Arthur 
Northwood, Jr., Rendezvous With Destiny — A His- 
tory of the 101st Airborne Division (Washington: 
Infantry Journal Press, 1948), p. 643. The last is 
one of the better unofficial unit histories. 



fensive, this time with the 1 1 th Armored 
Division (Brig. Gen. Charles S. Kilburn) 
inserted between the two airborne di- 
visions of the VIII Corps. 30 

Progress of the renewed drive reflected 
less of American intent than of German. 
On the west, in the sector included in 
Hitler's authorization to German units 
to withdraw, patrols of the 87th Division 
reached the Ourthe River the first day, 
the 13th, those of the 17th Airborne Di- 
vision the next. The armor, meanwhile, 
attacking generally astride the line Hit- 
ler had designated as stopping point for 
the withdrawal, had to fight hard for 
every objective and as late as the 15th 
beat off a counterattack by some twenty 
tanks supported by a covey of fighter 
aircraft. Concurrently, the 10 1st Air- 
borne Division astride the road to Houf- 
falize encountered the same determined 
stand as before. At Foy, south of Noville, 
for example, the Germans counter- 
attacked three times, retaking the town 
at dawn on the 14th with a battalion of 
infantry supported by a company of 
tanks. 

Yet the airborne troops, too, were 
destined soon to experience softening re- 
sistance. On the 14th, the Commander 
in Chief West, Field Marshal von Rund- 
stedt, appealed to Hitler to authorize a 
further withdrawal: the line Hitler 
earlier had specified west of Houffalize 
already had been compromised in the 
north and was being rolled up in the 
south. He asked approval to pull back 
farther to anchor a new line on high 
ground just east of Houffalize, extending 
it northward behind the Salm River and 
southward through' existing positions 
east of Bastogne. 



Gay Diary, entries of 10, 11, 12 Jan 45. 



42 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Patrols of the First and Third Armies Meet at Houffalize 



Having accepted by this time the in- 
evitability of losing the bulge, Hitler 
agreed, but he refused to listen to ardent 
pleas by both Rundstedt and the Army 
Group B commander, Field Marshal 
Model, that they be allowed to withdraw 
by stages all the way to the Rhine, the 
only line, they believed, that the Ger- 
mans in the west still might hope with 
any assurance to hold. They could with- 
draw, Hitler said, but only under pres- 
sure and only as far as the West Wall. 
There they were to make their stand. 31 

31 Bauer, The German Withdrawal From the Ar- 
dennes; MS # A-858 (Schramm). 



On the 15th, men of the 101st Air- 
borne Division entered Noville, five 
miles south of Houffalize. 32 Early the 
next morning, the 11th Armored Di- 
vision seized high ground along the high- 

32 In a complementary attack by the 6th Armored 
Division on this same day, a gunner in the at- 
tached 603d Tank Destroyer Battalion, Cpl. Arthur 
O. Beyer, dismounted from his vehicle to capture 
two Germans. When a German machine gun 
opened fire on him, he rushed forward to knock 
it out with a grenade, then worked his way along 
a German defense line, wiping out the occupants 
of one foxhole after another. In his one-man as- 
sault, he destroyed 2 machine guns, killed 8 Ger- 
mans, and captured 18. For this feat, Corporal 
Beyer received the Medal of Honor. 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



43 



way immediately south of Houffalize. 
Southwest of the town, a patrol com- 
manded by Maj. Joseph M. L. Greene 
met a patrol from the 2d Armored Di- 
vision of the First Army's VII Corps. 

Rent by the counteroffensive, the First 
and Third Armies at last had linked at 
the waist of the bulge. In one way, it 
was an empty accomplishment; so meas- 
ured had been the advance, such delays 
had the Germans imposed, that most of 
the troops in what might have been a 
sizable pocket had escaped. 

Juncture at Houffalize nevertheless 
marked completion of the first phase of 
the campaign to push in the bulge. It 
also meant that the break in communica- 
tions between American armies, which 
had caused General Eisenhower to put 
the First Army under Montgomery's 
command, no longer existed. At mid- 
night the next day, 17 January, the 
First Army returned to Bradley's 12 th 
Army Group. 

The Drive on St. Vith 

From the viewpoint of the First Army, 
the juncture at Houffalize marked no 
interval in the offensive to erase the 
bulge, but it pointed up a shift in em- 
phasis that had gradually been evolving 
as linkup neared. Having begun to attack 
early in January in support of the VII 
Corps, General Ridgway's XVIII Air- 
borne Corps took over the main assign- 
ment, a drive eastward on the road cen- 
ter of St. Vith. Collins's VII Corps was 
to support this drive briefly by also turn- 
ing east; but because of the northeast- 
ward orientation of Patton's Third 
Army, the VII Corps soon would be 
pinched out of the line. 

A more important supporting role was 



to be performed by the V Corps. From 
the northern shoulder of the bulge close 
by its base, the V Corps was to seize a 
defile along upper reaches of the little 
Ambleve River, thereby springing loose 
an armored division for a direct thrust 
southward on St. Vith. The armor, once 
free, was to come under command of the 
airborne corps to constitute the northern 
arm of a two-pronged thrust on St. Vith. 33 

For the Third Army, the juncture at 
Houffalize did represent a distinct break 
in the offensive, since it gave Patton an 
opportunity he would embrace with 
relish — to return to his original concept 
of an attack close to the southern base of 
the bulge. Patton intended to launch. this 
thrust across the Sure River with General 
Eddy's XII Corps. 

It was too late at this point (if it had 
ever been feasible) to try seriously the 
maneuver Patton had talked about in 
December, a full-blooded attack north- 
eastward across the German frontier to 
Pruem to cut off and destroy the Ger- 
mans in the bulge. The rationale now for 
an attack from the south, directed almost 
due northward in the direction of St. 
Vith, was precisely the opposite of en- 
velopment, a hope that threat from the 
south would prompt the Germans to 
shift enough strength from the vicinity 
of Houffalize and Bastogne to enable 
Millikin's III Corps and Middleton's 
VIII Corps to advance with relative ease 
toward the northeast. Yet against the 
slim possibility that the XII Corps might 
achieve a breakthrough, despite sharply 
compartmented terrain and heavy snow, 
General Eddy held an armored division 
in reserve. The 12th Army Group com- 
mander, General Bradley, also proposed 

33 FUSA Report of Operations, 1 Aug 44-22 Feb 
45- 



44 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



that once the First Army took St. Vith, 
General Hodges should send a corps 
south to link with the Third Army's 
XII Corps, a shallow envelopment that 
might trap any German forces still re- 
maining farther west. 34 

Having at last gained Hitler's permis- 
sion to withdraw from the bulge, Ger- 
man commanders faced the problem of 
how to get out before converging Ameri- 
can attacks at the base cut them off. They 
had to make their withdrawal either on 
those days when weather cloaked them 
from the Jabo, as German troops called 
Allied fighter-bombers, or by night. A 
shortage of gasoline, that had developed 
early in the counteroffensive as the logis- 
tical pipeline over snow-drenched Eifel 
roads broke down, was at this point 
acute; and the prospects of bottlenecks 
at the few tactical bridges in the snow- 
slick gorge of the Our River along the 
frontier filled many a commander with 
dread. 35 

German commanders now faced their 
number one task of holding the shoul- 
ders of their salient without the services 
of the two SS panzer corps headquarters 
and four SS panzer divisions that Hitler 
had directed to assemble near St. Vith 
under the Sixth Panzer Army. The 
Fuehrer was becoming increasingly 
piqued that field commanders had not 
taken these divisions immediately out of 
the line and were still using portions of 
them as fire brigades in threatened sec- 
tors. That the SS divisions soon would 
be totally out of reach of the western 
commanders became apparent on the 



34 Gay Diary, entry of 15 Jan 45; TUSA AAR, 
Jan 45. 

35 MS # B-i 5 ia (Manteuffel); MS # A-876 
(Brandenberger); Bauer, The German Withdrawal 
From the Ardennes. 



14th when Hitler ordered two volks ar- 
tillery corps shifted hurriedly from the 
Ardennes to the east in response to the 
new Russian offensive and alerted the SS 
divisions for a similar move. All that 
would be left to hold in the Ardennes 
would be men who not only had seen the 
grandiose prospects of the counterof- 
fensive dashed to bits but who also were 
embittered by Hitler's pulling out the 
SS divisions for what looked to the men 
in the foxhole like a rest. 36 

The new main effort by General 
Hodges' First Army had begun even be- 
fore the linkup at Houffalize and a day 
before Hitler authorized withdrawal to 
a new line east of Houffalize. This line 
was already breached along its north- 
ward extension, for even while acting in 
a supporting role to the VII Corps Gen- 
eral Ridgway's XVIII Airborne Corps 
had established a bridgehead across the 
Salm River and another over the Am- 
bleve near where the two rivers come 
together. 

Beginning on 1 3 January, as a first step 
in the drive on St. Vith, the XVIII Air- 
borne Corps attacked to flatten the 
corner formed by the meeting of the 
Ambleve and the Salm. At General Ridg- 
way's insistence, this drive was to be no 
measured blunting of the angle all along 
the line; emphasis instead fell to the 30th 
Division from positions on the northern 
shoulder some three miles north of the 
meandering Ambleve River at Malmedy 
to drive southward, thereby posing threat 
of envelopment to Germans in the Salm- 
Ambleve angle to the west. 37 Having re- 
placed the 82d Airborne Division along 
the Salm on the right flank of the corps, 

M MS # A-858 (Schramm); Bauer, The German 
Withdrawal From the Ardennes. 

37 Sylvan Diary, entries of 4, 9 Jan 45. 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 

the 75th Division (Maj. Gen. Fay B. 
Prickett) attacked in an easterly direc- 
tion toward St. Vith to form the second 
arm of a pincers threatening the Ger- 
mans in the corner. The 106th Division 
(Brig. Gen. Herbert T. Perrin) pressed 
forward in the angle itself with the sep- 
arate 517th Parachute Infantry and the 
division's sole surviving regiment (the 
others had been destroyed early in the 
counteroffensive) . 

Nowhere was there a solid German 
line. Although defense was stubborn and 
included small counterattacks, it cen- 
tered primarily in villages and on oc- 
casional key high ground. On the first 
day and again on the second, the 30th 
Infantry Division south of Malmedy 
made the most gains, advancing up to 
four miles to take high ground that 
guarded approach to the west shoulder 
of the defile through which armor of the 
V Corps later was to debouch. 

Part of the 30th Infantry Division's 
success was attributable to hitting near a 
boundary between major German units 
— to the east the LXVII Corps (General 
der Infanterie Otto Hitzfeld) of Zangen's 
Fifteenth Army and to the west the XIII 
Corps (General der Infanterie Hans Fel- 
ber) , which was still under control of 
Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army. Pushing 
back and occasionally overrunning por- 
tions of a depleted volks grenadier di- 
vision of Felber's XIII Corps, the 
infantrymen cut into the flank and rear 
of the 3d Parachute Division of Hitz- 
feld's LXVII Corps, prompting Hitzfeld 
to bring up another understrength volks 
grenadier division in hope of filling the 
breach. 38 



38 German material is from Bauer, The German 
Withdrawal From the Ardennes. 



45 




General Ridgway 

The big disappointment to the 
Americans was slow progress by the 75th 
Division, whose advance across the Salm 
toward St. Vith was so limited that it 
took much of the threat out of General 
Ridgway 's intended envelopment of the 
Germans in the Ambleve-Salm angle. 
While trying to make allowance for the 
fact that the division had seen its first 
combat only a day before Christmas, 
both Ridgway and the First Army com- 
mander, General Hodges, feared all of- 
fensive punch temporarily gone. On the 
19th, patrols of the 75th and 30th Di- 
visions at last met to pinch out the 106th 
Division and seal off the corner, but so 
slow had been the 75th's advance that 
two divisions of Felber's XIII Corps had 
escaped with little difficulty. Seeing the 
problem as one of command, General 



46 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Hodges recommended the division com- 
mander's relief. 39 

The main fight centered in the mean- 
time on the defile through which armor 
under the V Corps was to drive in order 
to come upon St. Vith from the north. 
Named for a town on the northern ap- 
proach, this was known as the Ondenval 
defile. 

As the V Corps began its drive early 
on 15 January, a new commander took 
over while General Gerow left to head an 
army headquarters newly arrived from 
the United States, the Fifteenth, destined 
to serve primarily as an occupation force 
as the Allies swept across Germany. 40 
The new corps commander was Maj. 
Gen. C. Ralph Huebner, who had guided 
the veteran 1st Infantry Division since 
the end of the campaign in Sicily. 

General Huebner's former command, 
headed now by the former division ar- 
tillery commander, Brig. Gen. Clift 
Andrus, drew the assignment of opening 
the Ondenval defile for the armor. While 
the regiments of the 1st Division took 
high ground east of the defile and con- 
tingents of the 30th Division wooded 
high ground to the west, the 2d Di- 
vision's 23d Infantry, attached to the 1st 
Division, moved south through Onden- 
val directly against the defile. 

A five-day fight developed, primarily 
against the 3d Parachute Division. Sens- 
ing the full import of the attack as a 
threat to St. Vith and those German 
units still west of the town, Field Marshal 
Model at Army Group B on the 17th 
unified command in the sector by trans- 
ferring Hitzfeld's LXVII Corps to Die- 



38 Sylvan Diary, entries of 16, 17, 20 Jan 45. 

10 History of the Fifteenth United States Army 
(no publisher, no date), an unofficial unit history. 
See also below, ch. XV. 



trich's Sixth Panzer Army. Two days 
later, in an effort to shore up a faltering 
defense all along the line, General Die- 
trich risked Hitler's wrath by recommit- 
ting artillery of the / SS Panzer Corps to 
reinforce fires at the Ondenval defile and 
small contingents of tanks from three of 
his four SS panzer divisions to reinforce 
local counterattacks. 

Dietrich might slow the advance but 
neither he nor cruel winter weather with 
waist-high drifts of snow could stop it. 
Sometimes the weather was more of a 
problem than the enemy. On one oc- 
casion two men stopping to rest dropped 
unconscious from exhaustion. "We are 
fighting the weather," said General 
Hobbs, commanding the 30th Division, 
"and losing about one hundred a day. 
. . . It is a hell of a country." 41 

The state of the weather gave the little 
Ardennes towns an added dimension as 
prizes of war. Not only did the towns 
control the roads needed for tanks and 
trucks but they also afforded shelter, a 
chance for the men to thaw out and dry 
out, to get a night's sleep under cover. 
The towns, unfortunately, were almost 
always in a draw or on a reverse slope, 
making it necessary to seize the high 
ground beyond and hold it from foxholes 
blasted out of frozen earth with small 
explosive charges. It became a matter of 
constant nagging concern to forward 
commanders to rotate their men and 
allow all at least brief respite from the 
cold. 

Partly because the German soldiers, 



41 30th Div G-3 Jnl, 22 Jan 45. This division's 
journal contains valuable verbatim records of tele- 
phone conversations. See also Robert P. Hewitt, 
Workhorse of the Western Front (Washington: In- 
fantry Journal Press, 1946), an excellent unit his- 
tory. 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



47 



t 



* 




t 



Medics Use a "Litter Jeep" to Evacuate Patients 



too, wanted shelter, and partly because 
buildings made good strongpoints, the 
villages and small settlements at critical 
road junctions were hardest to get at. 
Although sometimes delayed by mines 
hidden by the deep snow, tanks and tank 
destroyers proved almost essential for 
blasting the Germans from the houses. 
Artillery could chase the defenders into 
the cellars, but it could not keep them 
there. As men of one battalion of the 
23d Infantry entered a village close be- 
hind an artillery preparation, Germans 
emerged in their midst to promote a 
fight so intimate that at one point an 



American soldier reputedly engaged a 
German with his fists. 42 

The enemy, fortunately, was not so 
consistently persistent as was the weather. 
Nearly all units had the experience of 
advancing for an hour or sometimes even 
half a day without a round fired at them; 
then, suddenly, at a stream bank, a farm- 
house, the edge of a wood or a village, a 
flurry of fire from automatic weapons or 
shelling from artillery and mortars, or 
both, might erupt. Sometimes this sig- 
naled start of a counterattack, usually in 



1st Div G-3 Jnl, ig Jan 45. 



48 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



no more than company strength, precipi- 
tating a sharp but usually short engage- 
ment. 

The 23d Infantry finally cleared the 
Ondenval defile on the 17th, held it with 
the help of massed artillery fires against 
a battalion-size counterattack supported 
by three tanks on the 18th, then passed 
on in a blinding snowstorm on the 19th 
to seize the first tier of towns beyond. 
Through the defile and along another 
road to the west in the 30th Division's 
zone, tanks, tank destroyers, and half- 
tracks of the 7th Armored Division (Maj. 
Gen. Robert W. Hasbrouck) began to 
pass early on the 20th, headed for the 
rubble that St. Vith had become after 
this same division had fought gallantly 
for the town in December. 

Northward Across the Sure 

Patton's Third Army resumed its role 
in pushing the Germans back with sur- 
prise crossings of the Sure River before 
daylight on 18 January. Close by the 
German frontier, a regiment of the 4th 
Infantry Division (Brig. Gen. Harold W. 
Blakeley) began to cross into an angle 
formed by confluence of the Sure and 
the Our, while two regiments of the 5th 
Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. S. LeRoy 
Irwin) crossed on either side of Diekirch, 
less than five miles west of the frontier. 
While the men of the 4th Division pro- 
tected the 5th Division's right flank and 
took out the enemy's bridges across the 
Our below the Luxembourg frontier 
town of Vianden, four miles north of 
the Sure, the men of the 5 th were to 
drive north along a highway that runs 
within several miles of the frontier. Be- 
cause the highway follows the crest of a 
ridgeline through semimountainous 



countryside (la Petite Suisse) , American 
soldiers long ago had christened it the 
"Skyline Drive," 

Even more than in the vicinity of St. 
Vith, it was imperative for the Germans 
to hold firm along the Sure River, be- 
cause the heaviest concentration of Ger- 
man force remaining in the bulge, that 
which had fought around Bastogne, was 
peculiarly susceptible to a thrust from 
the south. Four divisions of General 
Brandenberger's Seventh Army, charged 
with defending the southern flank, and 
at least nine of General von Manteuffel's 
Fifth Panzer Army in the vicinity of 
Bastogne had to withdraw through this 
southern portion of the bulge. The east- 
west roads they had to use were markedly 
inferior to the north-south routes that 
beckoned an attacker from the south; 
and the Germans had only five tactical 
bridges over the Our River, three of 
which, at and south of Vianden, were 
dangerously close to the existing Ameri- 
can line along the Sure. The bridges in 
any case inevitably meant congestion, 
slowing the withdrawal and inviting at- 
tack from the air. 43 

Toward the end of December, the 
presence in reserve south of the Sure of 
the 6th U.S. Armored Division had 
alarmed General Brandenberger lest the 
Americans strike while the bulk of his 
strength was trying to help the Fifth 
Panzer Army break Bastogne; but with 
the shift of the armor to Bastogne and 
the beginning of American attacks there, 
Brandenberger had begun to view his 
vulnerable positions along the Sure with 
greater equanimity. If his Seventh Army 
was to be hit any time soon, Branden- 
berger deduced, the strike would come 

13 German material is from Bauer, The German 
Withdrawal From the Ardennes. 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



49 



not along the Sure close to the base of 
the bulge but farther west where his 
troops still held positions between Ettel- 
bruck at the southern terminus of the 
Skyline Drive, and Wiltz, positions that 
were south and west of the Sure in one 
place and between the Sure and Wiltz 
Rivers in another. 

Brandenberger was seeing American 
intentions in terms of his own disposi- 
tions. He was stronger west and north- 
west of Ettelbruck, where three volks 
grenadier divisions under the LIU Corps 
(General der Kavallerie Edwin Graf 
Rothkirch und Trach) held the line. 
Along the Sure between Ettelbruck and 
the frontier, he had only one volks 
grenadier division, which with another 
that was holding a 30-mile stretch of the 
West Wall along the frontier to the 
southeast, made up the LXXX Corps 
(General der Infanterie Franz Beyer) . 

Although the little Sure River is ford- 
able at many points, the weather was too 
cold for wading. Nor was American ar- 
tillery to forewarn the enemy with a 
preparatory barrage. The night was 
black, cold, and silent as men of the 4th 
and 5th Divisions moved assault boats 
and three-man canvas rafts to the ice- 
crusted edge of the stream. 44 

The troops gained the surprise they 
sought. Hardly a shot sounded along the 
Sure that night before the first waves of 
infantrymen touched down on the north 
bank. Only at a place just west of Die- 
kirch, where a machine gun opened up 
on an assault company of the 5th Di- 

11 For an annotated account of this attack at a 
small-unit level, see Maj. Dello G. Dayton, The 
Attack by XII Corps 18-29 January 1945, unpub- 
lished MS in OCMH, prepared in the European 
Theater of Operations Historical Section soon after 
the war. See also combat interviews with men of 
the 5th Division. 



vision's 2d Infantry, was there trouble- 
some German fire; and there the 
infantrymen were able to pull back and 
cross in an adjacent sector. 

Just east of Diekirch, a battalion of 
the same division's 10th Infantry turned 
the icy, snow-covered river bank to ad- 
vantage by loading men into the assault 
boats at the top of the slope and shoving 
the boats downhill like toboggans. At 
another point engineers tied 150-foot 
ropes to either end of the boats so that, 
once the first wave had passed, they could 
pull the boats back and forth across the 
little river. In two places infantrymen 
crossed on footbridges that engineers had 
quietly shoved into place just before 
H-hour. 

The night was so dark and the early 
morning made so obscure by a combina- 
tion of mist in the river bottom and 
American smoke pots that the Germans 
were hard put at first to determine the 
'extent of the threat posed against them. 
In many cases U.S. troops passed unseen 
by German machine gun and mortar 
crews. Already seriously weakened by 
loss of field pieces earlier in the Ardennes 
fighting and by ammunition shortages, 
German artillery was "as good as 
blinded." 45 Some three hours passed be- 
fore the first artillery shells struck along 
the river. 

By the end of the first day a vehicular 
ford and several treadway bridges were 
operating to enable supporting tanks and 
tank destroyers to cross the Sure. A 
bridgehead up to two miles deep was 
solidly established, in enough depth to 
bring the two German bridges over the 
Our downstream from Vianden under 
punishing artillery fire. German troubles 



45 MS # A-876 (Brandenberger), 



50 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



had been further compounded when in 
midmorning the 8oth Infantry Division 
(Maj. Gen. Horace L. McBride) had 
begun to attack to the northeast to drive 
General Rothkirch's LIII Corps behind 
the Wiltz and another stretch of the Sure 
between Ettelbruck and the Wiltz River 
and to facilitate the 5th Division's ad- 
vance up the Skyline Drive. 46 

As surprised by the American thrust as 
were the volks grenadiers on the ground, 
the Seventh Army commander, General 
Brandenberger, ordered most of the sup- 
porting army artillery and engineer units 
that had been grouped behind the LIII 
Corps to shift to the more seriously 
menaced LXXX Corps. He also directed 
a volks grenadier division to fall back 
from the western tip of the LIII Corps 
to establish a blocking position astride 
the Skyline Drive along a cross-ridge 
northwest of Vianden, there to form a 
mask for the two tactical bridges up- 
stream from Vianden. 

Field Marshal Model at Army Group 
B provided help by ordering first a 
Kampfgruppe, then all that was left of 
the Panzer Lehr Division, transferred 
from the Fifth Panzer Army. He fol- 
lowed this with an order for a severely 
depleted 2d Panzer Division also to turn 
south, then headquarters of the XLVII 



M Ten days before, on 8 January, in the village 
of Dahl, near Wiltz, a g-man squad of the 8oth 
Division's 319th Infantry commanded by Sgt. Day 
G. Turner fought savagely for four hours to hold 
a house on the fringe of the village against a local 
German attack. Turner himself bayoneted two 
Germans, threw a can of flaming oil at others, and, 
when his ammunition was exhausted, used enemy 
weapons to continue the fight. Only three of his 
men still were alive and unhurt when the Ger- 
mans broke, leaving behind 11 dead and 25 cap- 
tured. Sergeant Turner received the Medal of 
Honor. 



Panzer Corps to command the two pan- 
zer divisions. Behind the Fifth Panzer 
Army, engineers began building another 
bridge over the Our. 

It would have required long hours 
under ideal conditions for any of these 
expedients to have effect. In view of 
crippling gasoline shortages and the 
heavy snowstorm of 19 January, it would 
take not hours but days. 

The 5th Division in the meantime 
fought steadily up the Skyline Drive to 
reach a point almost due west of Vianden 
on the 21st; there the division paused 
amid rumors of impending armored 
counterattack. Several observers having 
reported heavy German troop move- 
ments around Vianden, the division com- 
mander, General Irwin, was disturbed 
that the 4th Division had been unable to 
keep pace on his division's right. There 
the original defenders, their positions 
compressed and their backs to the Our, 
kept the 4th Division's 12th Infantry at 
a respectable distance from Vianden and 
its vital bridge. 

The situation was less disturbing on 
the 5th Division's other flank. There the 
advance up the Skyline Drive had posed 
such a threat of entrapment to the Ger- 
mans of Rothkirch's LIII Corps that on 
2 1 January they began to pull out, leav- 
ing only strong rear guards to oppose 
the 80th Division's attack to the north- 
east. So precipitate was the exodus that 
much of it took place in full view of men 
of the 5th Division on the high ground. 
The infantrymen cheered to see the Ger- 
mans run. They cheered, too, at the rich 
gunnery targets presented by long col- 
umns of trucks, tanks, and horse-drawn 
artillery. "Let her go, boys" one artillery 
observer radioed to his gunners; "you 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



51 



can't miss a Jerry wherever you land 
them." 47 

Other observers demanded to know, 
"Where is the air?" 48 Yet as on so many 
days of the foggy, snowbound January, 
there was no air. During the morning, ice 
and snow on runways prevented most 
squadrons of the XIX Tactical Air Com- 
mand from taking off, and during the 
afternoon pilots of the few planes that 
got up found ground haze too thick for 
them to spot the targets. 

That changed dramatically the next 
day, the 2 2d. A brilliant sun came up, its 
rays glistening on the new snow cover. 

Four groups of fighter-bombers as- 
signed to support the XII Corps began 
early to attack, then quickly called for 
help until eventually the entire XIX 
Tactical Air Command joined the hunt. 
The snow-drenched roads were thick 
with German traffic — much of Roth- 
kirch's LIII Corps pulling back to the 
northeast, rear elements of the Fifth 
Panzer Army seeking the east bank of the 
Our, and the XLVH Panzer Corps with 
the 2d Panzer and Panzer Lehr Divisions 
cutting across the grain of the withdrawal 
to go to the Seventh Army's aid. Snarled 
by the snow and the deep canyon of the 
Our, vehicles at the Our bridges were 
stalled bumper-to-bumper. 

American pilots were jubilant, re- 
minded of the days in August when so 
many of the Germans fleeing France had 
been squashed along the roads like in- 
sects. "For the first time [in the Ar- 
dennes]," noted General Brandenberger, 
"the situation in the air was similar to 
that which had prevailed in Nor- 
mandy." 49 When the day came to an 

"5th Div G-3 Jnl, 21 Jan 45. 
is Ibid. 

18 MS # A-876 (Brandenberger). 



end, 25 squadrons had flown 627 sorties. 
Although the pilots as usual made un- 
realistically high estimates of their ac- 
complishments, the day's strikes caused 
considerable damage and compounded 
the delays that terrain, weather, and gaso- 
line shortages already had imposed on 
the German withdrawal. 50 

The day of 22 January was notable for 
another development as well. On that 
day Hitler ordered the Sixth Panzer 
Army to quit the Ardennes entirely and 
to transfer with all speed to the east to 
oppose a broadening Russian offensive, 
an unqualified admission not only that 
the counteroffensive had failed but also 
that the Eastern Front again had priority 
on resources. In addition to headquarters 
of the two SS panzer corps and the four 
SS panzer divisions, the shift included 
the Fuehrer Begleit and Fuehrer Grena- 
dier Brigades and assorted supporting 
units. General von Manteuffel's Fifth 
Panzer Army assumed control of the two 
corps in the north that General Dietrich 
had been directing in opposing the 
American drive on St. Vith. 

The next day, 23 January, was notable, 
too, not in the air, since the weather 
closed in again, but in three places on the 
ground. In the north, General Has- 
brouck's 7 th Armored Division came 
back to St. Vith, signaling the approxi- 
mate end of the First Army's role in 
flattening the bulge. Along the Skyline 
Drive, General Brandenberger on the 
same day turned over defense of the 



50 For various reasons, claims of enemy losses 
from air action almost always were high. One study 
conducted by the British proved by ground check 
that air force claims of German tanks destroyed 
in the Ardennes were at least ten times too high. 
See Directorate of Tactical Investigation, War Of- 
fice, The German Counter-Offensive in the Ar- 
dennes, MS in OCMH. 



52 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



blocking position northwest of Vianden 
to the XLVII Panzer Corps with assist- 
ance on the west from Rothkirch's LIII 
Corps. There would be no armored 
counterattack, if indeed the depleted, 
gasoline-short panzer corps had ever seri- 
ously considered one, only a continuing 
passive defense to keep the Americans 
away from the Our bridges until the last 
of the Fifth Panzer Army could pull out. 
Also on the 23d, General Middleton's 
VIII Corps and General Millikin's III 
Corps got back into the fight even as the 
12 th Army Group commander, General 
Bradley, came up with the genesis of a 
new plan destined to affect employment 
of these corps. 

As early as 19 January, General Patton 
had detected enough indications that the 
northward drive by Eddy's XII Corps 
would prompt German withdrawal from 
the eastward-facing line of the bulge to 
justify ordering Middleton and Millikin 
to resume their advance. Although Pat- 
ton specified 21 January for the push to 
begin, patrols all along the front made 
so little enemy contact during the after- 
noon of the 19th that both corps com- 
manders feared delaying another day lest 
they collapse a bag filled only with air. 
They ordered their divisions to put out 
strong patrols and follow them up in 
strength if resistance failed to develop. 

It failed to develop for three days. A 
tank-supported ambush in a village 
mangled a company of the 90th Division 
in the center of the III Corps, but other 
than that, few units encountered any of 
the enemy except stragglers. Although 
some of these fired before surrendering, 
none represented a true rear guard. So 
heterogeneous was the mixture that the 
6th Armored Division alone took prison- 
ers from ten different divisions. The 1 ith 



Armored Division on the north wing of, 
the VIII Corps was pinched out of the 
line before ever catching up with the 
enemy. 

Yet for all the lack of resistance, the 
pursuit was slow. The deep snow and 
slick roads saw to that. Protecting the 
right flank of the III Corps, the 6th 
Cavalry Group most of the time had to 
advance dismounted. To find suitable 
roads, the 6th Armored Division often 
had to impinge on the zone of the neigh- 
boring 90th Division. 

When coupled with staunch defense 
against the attack of Eddy's XII Corps 
from the south, the German withdrawal 
meant an end to any hopes General Pat- 
ton still might have entertained for 
trapping his enemy with a drive close 
along the base of the bulge. Nor was 
there any point in implementing General 
Bradley's earlier suggestion that the First 
Army send a corps southward from St. 
Vith. 

On the 23d Bradley called Patton to 
his headquarters, there to propose a plan 
that he had been contemplating for more 
than a fortnight, a plan designed to par- 
lay the attack to flatten the bulge into a 
major drive through the Eifel to gain 
the Rhine. 51 Since Bradley's plan in- 
volved use of a strong corps of the Third 
Army close along the flank of the First 
Army around St. Vith, Patton decided to 
employ Middleton's VIII Corps. Like the 
First Army's VII Corps, which was 
pinched out of the fight after only one 
day of the renewed attack (22 January) , 
the VIII Corps had been scheduled to be 
pinched out by the northeastward orien- 
tation of the III Corps; but because 
Middleton and his staff knew the terrain 



Gay Diary, entry of 23 Jan 45; ch. Ill, below. 



VICTORY IN THE ARDENNES 



53 



around St. Vith from earlier fighting, 
Patton altered boundaries to change 
this. 52 Turning the III Corps eastward 
to pass directly across the front of Eddy's 
XII Corps, he made room for Middle- 
ton's command. 

While the VIII Corps Avith only one 
division still forward adjusted to the 
boundary change, the divisions of the 
III Corps ran into a shooting war again. 
After having fallen back approximately 
nine miles, the Germans paused to at- 
tempt a new stand behind the little Clerf 
River, just over two miles west of the 
Skyline Drive. Yet the resistance, though 
strong in places, was spotty and depended 
largely on infantry weapons. Both the 
6th Armored and 90th Divisions crossed 
the Clerf on the 23d, while the 26th 
Division jumped the stream the next 
day. By the 25th the hasty German line 
had ceased to exist, and the defense re- 
verted to delaying action by isolated 
groups chiefly in a row of villages along 
the Skyline Drive. 

Although some fighting to clear the 
west bank of the Our continued through 
28 January, it was a mop-up operation 
occupying only a fraction of the Third 
Army's troops. The focus shifted to 
shuffling units and boundaries in prep- 
aration for the new offensive General 
Bradley had outlined on the 23d. With 
the Germans at last driven back into the 
West Wall, the bulge created by the 
futile counteroffensive that had cost Ger- 
mans and Americans alike so heavily 
was erased. 

The drive from 3 through 28 January 
to flatten the bulge in the Ardennes 
added 39,672 battle casualties to an 
American total of 41,315 incurred during 



M Patton, War As I Knew It, pp. 224-25. 



that phase of the fighting when the Ger- 
mans were on the offensive. Of the addi- 
tional losses, 6,138 were killed or died of 
wounds and 6,272 were missing or known 
captured. 53 Just how many more losses 
the combat in January produced on the 
German side is difficult to say. Estimates 
of enemy losses for all the fighting in the 
Ardennes have ranged from 81,834 (low- 
est German estimate) to 103,900 (high- 
est Allied estimate) , 54 Possibly as many 
as 30 to 40 percent of these occurred 
during the January campaign. 

That the Germans were forced to re- 
tire to the positions whence they had 
emerged from the mists of the Eifel on 
16 December was testament enough to a 
victory for American arms. Yet a com- 
bination of an American drive to push 
in rather than cut off the bulge and an 
adroit German withdrawal had enabled 
the Germans to escape with losses no 
greater than might be considered normal 
in any deliberate delaying action under 
harsh conditions of weather and terrain. 
The Germans did it under the handicaps 
of an acute shortage of gasoline and a 
vastly superior, almost predominant, 
Allied air force. In the process, they 
saved most of their arms and equipment 
too, although large numbers of tanks and 
artillery pieces had to be destroyed near 
the end for lack of spare parts and gaso- 
line. 

To the Germans, American tactics ap- 
peared to consist of a series of quickly 
shifting attacks that probed for weak 
spots to take individual divisions in 
flanks or rear. Noting that their ad- 
versary eschewed night attacks, stopping 

63 12 th AGp, G-i Daily Summary, master file, 1 
Jan-28 Feb 45. Figures for the earlier period are 
from Cole, The Ardennes, p. 674. 

E *Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 396. 



54 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



with almost clocklike regularity as dark- 
ness fell, the Germans deemed him slow 
in following up retrograde movements 
but doggedly determined. A constant 
nibbling away at German positions 
forced German commanders to weaken 
one spot to shore up another, only to see 
a new penetration develop elsewhere. 
What saved them in numbers of in- 
stances, the Germans believed, was an 
American tendency to stop at a given 
objective rather than to exploit an ad- 
vantage fully and quickly. American 
fighter-bombers, the Germans also noted, 
failed to hit traffic bottlenecks such as 
road intersections and bridges as hard as 
the Germans thought they might. 55 

Against these observations would have 
to be weighed American difficulties. The 
same cruel weather, the same slick roads 
affected American operations, probably 
more than the Germans', since the offen- 
sive force is normally the more exposed. 
Like the Germans, too, American units 
had problems with replacements. Even 
the manpower well in the United States 
was showing signs of going dry, and at 

M See Bauer, The German Withdrawal From the 
Ardennes. 



the height of the Ardennes fighting Gen- 
eral Eisenhower directed both a comb- 
out of rear echelon units and a program 
whereby Negro service troops might vol- 
unteer for the infantry. The Third Army 
was particularly short of infantry replace- 
ments until well along in the January 
campaign, and in all cases replacements 
in terms of experience hardly could 
equal the fallen. 

The question of whether the counter- 
offensive in the Ardennes had any 
chance, however slim, of succeeding and 
thus of whether Hitler was justified in 
gambling major resources on the West- 
ern Front would forever remain unan- 
swered, one of those imponderables that 
each student of warfare is apt to decide 
only for himself. 56 As for the effect of 
the counteroffensive and the heavy losses 
it entailed on subsequent operations and 
the final quest for victory in Europe, that 
remained to be demonstrated as a last 
offensive born in the cold and snow of 
the Ardennes gradually expanded, even- 
tually to encompass Allied armies all 
along the line. 

M For a discussion of this point, see Cole, The 
Ardennes, pp. 673-76. 



CHAPTER III 

Main Effort in the Eifel 



In early December, before the Ger- 
mans struck in the Ardennes, the Su- 
preme Commander had intended to 
maintain unremitting pressure on the 
enemy through the winter in hope of 
forcing him back to the Rhine. Converg- 
ing attacks by the 21 and 12 th Army 
Groups across the Rhine were to be 
launched in early summer, 1945. To 
criticism that pressure all along the line, 
the broad-front strategy, was indecisive, 
General Eisenhower had replied: "It ap- 
pears to me that wars are won in succes- 
sive stages and until we get firmly 
established on the Rhine we are not in 
position to make the attack which we 
hope will be fatal to the other fellow." 1 

That the Allies were not indeed in 
such a position seemed fully attested by 
the German counteroffensive. Studying 
possible courses of action to follow after 
eliminating the German gains, the plan- 
ning staff at SHAEF drew a plan that 
one critic called "almost a painstaking, 
uninspired, plodding way through to 
Berlin." 2 The plan actually did call for 
more methodical moves than before, 
but the timetable, as events were to 
prove, embodied considerable optimism. 

1 Msg, Eisenhower to the Prime Minister, CPA- 
90357, 26 Nov 44, SHAEF Msg File, Plans and 
Opns, A49-70, Folder 27. 

2 Memo, G. H. Phillimore for Chief Plans Sec, 
GCT/370-47/, sub: Plans, Future Opns — 1945, 2 
Jan 45, SHAEF G-3 file (Future Operations — 
1945)- 



Pointing out that even before the 
counteroffensive, Allied forces north and 
south of the Ardennes had been insuf- 
ficient to insure reaching the Rhine, the 
planners advocated concentrating on one 
section of the front at a time, starting 
with elimination of the Colmar pocket 
in the French sector, and forming a 
SHAEF reserve of six divisions. The 
planners proposed then to turn to an 
offensive north of the Ardennes while 
assuming the defensive elsewhere. Not 
until the 21 and 12 th Army Groups had 
reached the Rhine from Wesel south to 
Bonn were attacks to be resumed in the 
south. Not until March, after Allied 
forces had reached the Rhine all along 
the front, was anybody to cross the 
Rhine. 3 

Although never formally approved, 
this plan fairly represented the new em- 
phasis on defeating the Germans west of 
the Rhine by stages. As General Eisen- 
hower wrote to Field Marshal Mont- 
gomery: 

We must substantially defeat the German 
forces west of the Rhine if we are to make 
a truly successful invasion [of the interior 
of Germany] with all forces available. . . . 
As I see it, we simply cannot afford the 
large defensive forces that would be neces- 
sary if we allow the German to hold great 



3 Memo by Planning Staffs, sub: Future Opns — 
•945> a 3 D ec 44, SHAEF G-3 file (Future Opns — 
1945)- 



56 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



bastions sticking into our lines at the same 
time that we try to invade his country. 4 

Of eighty-five Allied divisions expected 
to be available in early summer, Eisen- 
hower estimated that forty-five would be 
needed in defense and reserve if the 
Allies were at that time holding a line 
similar to the one actually held on 15 
January, but only twenty-five if the line 
followed the Rhine. 5 

It was the SHAEF plan for cleaning up 
the area west of the Rhine before be- 
ginning a decisive thrust deep into Ger- 
many that incited objections from the 
British Chiefs of Staff. The British Chiefs 
feared that the plan meant a dispersion 
of strength and considered that Eisen- 
hower had only enough superiority on 
the ground to make a single powerful 
thrust, backed by enough fresh divisions 
to maintain momentum. This was the 
basic point at issue when the British 
Chiefs on 10 January asked formally for 
a review of strategy by the Combined 
Chiefs which led to the Supreme Com- 
mander's plan being discussed at the end 
of January at Malta. 6 

Convinced of the soundness of the 
plan and assured of backing by the U.S. 
Chiefs of Staff, General Eisenhower con- 
tinued to lay the groundwork for a re- 
newed offensive even while waiting for 
the Combined Chiefs to rule, though an 
element of the provisional hung over all 
plans made during the period. The Su- 
preme Commander directed specific at- 



4 Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 17 Jan 45, in 
Pogue files. (These files consist of notes and ex- 
tracts from documents in General Eisenhower's 
personal files, assembled by Dr. Pogue when he 
was preparing his volume, The Supreme Com- 
mand.) 

5 Msg, Eisenhower to Marshall, S-75090, 15 Jan 
45, War Dept Cable Log. 

"See above, ch. I. 



tention to what he considered the main 
effort, a drive to reach the Rhine north 
of the Ardennes in preparation for an 
eventual attack north of the Ruhr in- 
dustrial area. On 18 January he ordered 
the 21 Army Group commander, Mont- 
gomery, to prepare plans for such an 
offensive. 7 

General Bradley's Proposal 

Through the course of the Ardennes 
fighting, the 12 th Army Group com- 
mander, General Bradley, had been 
aware that General Eisenhower intended 
a return to a main effort in the north. 
Since the Ninth Army was to remain 
under Montgomery's command and par- 
ticipate in that drive, Bradley eventually 
would have to relinquish divisions to 
bring the Ninth Army to a strength at 
least equal to that which had existed 
before General Simpson had released 
divisions to fight in the Ardennes. Gen- 
eral Bradley nevertheless hoped to be 
able to continue to attack with his army 
group beyond the Ardennes to cut 
through northern reaches of the Eifel to 
the Rhine. 8 

Against the obvious difficulties of 
attacking in winter over countryside 
equally as inhospitable as that of the 
Ardennes and through the West Wall, 
Bradley could argue that an offensive in 
the Eifel fitted best as a continuation of 
the attack to reduce the bulge. It would 
avoid a pause to regroup; it would insure 
a constant and mounting pressure against 
the Germans; it would capitalize on 
probable German expectation of an Al- 



7 Msg, SHAEF to CG's AGp's, 18 Jan 45, SHAEF 
SGS 381, Post-OvERLORD Planning file, vol. III. 

8 12th AGp Ltr of Instrs 12, 4 Jan 45, 12th AGp 
Rpt of Opns, vol. V. 



MAIN EFFORT IN THE EIFEL 



57 



lied return to the offensive in the north; 
and it would put the 12 th Army Group 
in a position to unhinge the Germans in 
front of the 2 1 Army Group. To at least 
some among the American command, 
rather delicate considerations of national 
prestige also were involved, making it 
advisable to give to American armies and 
an American command that had in- 
curred a reverse in the Ardennes a lead- 
ing part in the new offensive. 9 

Attacking through the Eifel also would 
avoid directly confronting an obstacle 
that had plagued Bradley and the First 
Army's General Hodges all through the 
preceding autumn, a series of dams 
known collectively as the Roer River 
dams in rugged country along head- 
waters of the river near Monschau. So 
long as the Germans retained control of 
these dams, they might manipulate the 
waters impounded by the dams to jeop- 
ardize and even deny any Allied crossing 
of the normally placid Roer downstream 
to the north. 

By pursuing an offensive that the 1 2th 
Army Group's planning staff had first 
suggested in November, General Bradley 
saw a way to bypass and outflank the 
dams and still retain his ability to sup- 
port a main effort farther north. 10 Brad- 
ley intended to attack northeastward 
from a start line generally along the Ger- 
man frontier between Monschau and St. 
Vith and seize the road center of 
Euskirchen, not quite thirty miles away, 
where the Eifel highlands merge with the 
flatlands of the Cologne plain. This 
would put American forces behind the 

6 On the last point, see Gay Diary, entry of 24 
Jan 45. 

10 For the early planning, see 12 th AGp, Estimate 
of the Situation, 29 Nov 44, 12th AGp G-3 file. 
Memo by Planning Staffs, sub: Future Opns — 1945, 
23 Dec 44. 



enemy's Roer River defenses in a posi- 
tion to unhinge them. 

To the Supreme Commander, General 
Eisenhower, Bradley's proposal had the 
double virtue of being a logical follow-up 
to the job of reducing the bulge and of 
accomplishing part of the general build- 
up along the Rhine that he intended be- 
fore launching a major offensive deep 
into Germany. Yet Eisenhower saw a 
12th Army Group offensive as no sub- 
stitute for a main effort later by the 21 
Army Group. Since Montgomery had 
considerable regrouping to do before his 
offensive would be ready, Eisenhower 
agreed to let Bradley hold on tempo- 
rarily to the divisions earmarked for the 
Ninth Army and take a stab at the Eifel. 

General Eisenhower nevertheless 
sharply qualified his approval. If the 
attack failed to show early promise of a 
"decisive success," he intended halting it 
and shifting strength to the Ninth 
Army. 11 The definition of decisive suc- 
cess was apparently a quick, broad pene- 
tration of the West Wall. 12 Even beyond 
that the operation was to be subject to 
review at any time, and General Bradley 
was to be prepared to pass quickly to the 
defensive, relinquishing divisions to the 
Ninth Army. 13 

The Eifel Highlands 

Terrain would set even narrower lim- 
its on tactics in the Eifel than in the 
Ardennes. Streams in the Eifel have cut 
even deeper into the surface of the old 
plateau, and unlike the patchwork pat- 



11 SHAEF to CG's AGp's, 18 Jan 45. 

13 Lt Col T. F. Foote, Staff Rpt. Visit to Eagle 
(12th AGp) TAC, 18 Jan 45, in 12th AGp 371.3, 
Military Objectives, V. 

13 SHAEF to CG's AGp's, 18 Jan 45. 



58 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



terns in the Ardennes, the forests are 
vast. Although roads are fairly extensive, 
they twist and climb in and out of the 
stream valleys and through the narrow 
confines of farm villages. 

Well defined on the southeast by the 
convolutions of the Moselle River, the 
Eifel in the north and northeast merges 
irregularly into the Cologne plain, 
roughly on a line from Aachen through 
Euskirchen to the Rhine some fifteen 
miles south of Bonn. From the Belgian 
border to the Rhine the greatest depth 
of the Eifel is about forty-five miles. In 
width, the region extends along the 
frontiers of Belgium and Luxembourg 
from Aachen to Trier, a distance of some 
seventy-five miles. 

Close to the frontier, two hill masses 
or ridges stand out. Most prominent is 
the Schnee Eifel, a forested ridge some 
ten miles long, roughly parallel to the 
Belgian border east of St. Vith, rising 
abruptly from the surrounding country- 
side to a height of just over 2,000 feet. 
The other is an L-shaped ridgeline or 
hill mass forming a bridge between the 
Hohe Venn and the Schnee Eifel, which 
may be called from its highest point at 
the angle of the L, the Weisserstein. 
This ridgeline generally defines the Bel- 
gian-German border southeast of Mon- 
schau, then swings to the northeast. Part 
of the north-south watershed for the 
region, the Weisserstein in conjunction 
with the Hohe Venn and the Schnee 
Eifel also serves as the watershed between 
Eifel and Ardennes. 

Except for the Moselle the rivers of 
the Eifel are relatively minor streams, 
but they are important militarily because 
of their deep, twisting cuts. The main 
ones are the Our, running along the 
frontier and joining the Sauer before en- 



tering the Moselle; the Pruem, forming 
another north-south barrier a few miles 
beyond the Schnee Eifel; the Ahr, drain- 
ing from the Hohe Eifel northeastward 
to the Rhine; and the Roer. Two of the 
more important towns within the gen- 
erally pastoral region are Pruem and Bit- 
burg, the latter in a relatively open 
stretch of countryside southeast of 
Pruem. 

The northernmost reaches of the Eifel, 
the region that General Bradley hoped to 
avoid by making his attack south of the 
Roer dams, has no general geographical 
name, but American soldiers who had 
fought there had come to know it as the 
Huertgen Forest. Although not so high 
as other parts of the Eifel, this is one of 
the more sharply compartmented sectors 
and at the time was almost completely 
covered with forest and the debris of the 
September to December battles. 

The route that General Bradley chose 
for his main attack cut across the narrow 
northwestern corner of the Eifel, avoid- 
ing the rugged Huertgen Forest. From 
the Weisserstein several radial ridges 
stretch northeastward toward Euskirchen 
and Bonn, and along two of these run 
good roads that converge at Euskirchen. 
Although the Roer reservoirs and the 
Schnee Eifel would confine the frontage 
of the main effort to a narrow ten to 
twelve miles, the advantages outweighed 
this factor. 

Athwart the selected route ran the belt 
of concrete pillboxes, minefields, con- 
crete antitank obstacles (dragon's teeth) , 
and entrenchments of the West Wall. 
From the Moselle to the northern tip of 
the Schnee Eifel, the fortified zone was 
relatively shallow, usually not as much 
as a mile, but it drew strength from the 
difficult terrain, including the gorges of 



MAIN EFFORT IN THE EIFEL 



59 



the Our and the Sauer and the heights 
of the Schnee Eifel. Farther north the 
line split into two bands that diverged as 
much as eleven miles. Pillboxes in the 
second band were considerably fewer 
than in the first. 

The Enemy in the Eifel 

It was peculiarly difficult to guess in 
January how strongly the Germans might 
defend the West Wall, though the 12th 
Army Group's intelligence staff assumed 
that the enemy would make as stalwart a 
stand as possible, both because of a need 
to hold the Allies at arm's length from 
the Ruhr and because of Hitler's seem- 
ingly fanatic refusal to yield ground 
voluntarily. The large-scale Russian of- 
fensive that had begun on 12 January 
increased the likelihood of a determined 
defense of the West Wall even though 
the means were slipping away into the 
eastern void. 14 

Still operating under the Fuehrer's di- 
rective of 22 January to complete an 
orderly withdrawal from the Ardennes 
into the West Wall, German command- 
ers were, as expected, pledged to defend 
the fortifications, but they were looking 
forward to at least temporary respite 
once they gained the fortified line. De- 
tected shifts of some Allied units already 
had reinforced the generally accepted 
view that the Allies would return to a 
major thrust in the north in the di- 
rection of Cologne, so that the Germans 
naturally expected pressure to ease in the 
center. Because the V U.S. Corps ap- 
peared to be readying an attack from 
positions southeast of Monschau, the 
Fifth Panzer Army assumed that the 



14 FUSA G-2 Estimate No. 64, 21 Jan 45. 



Americans intended a limited attack to 
gain the Roer dams. Remarking rela- 
tively favorable terrain for armor around 
Bitburg, the Seventh Army believed that 
the Third U.S. Army might try to estab- 
lish a bridgehead over the Our River 
pointing toward Bitburg but anticipated 
some delay before any attempt to exploit. 
No one at the time expected a major 
thrust through the Eifel. 15 

As January neared an end, the Ger- 
mans would require another week to get 
the bulk of the Sixth Panzer Army 
loaded on trains and moving toward the 
east, but so occupied were the designated 
divisions with the move that no longer 
could they^ provide assistance in the line. 
Full responsibility for the defense lay 
with Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army on 
the north and Brandenberger's Seventh 
Army on the south. 

Even as the Americans argued the 
merits of a thrust through the Eifel, the 
German command was making the first 
of three adjustments designed to counter 
the expected Allied return to a main 
effort in the north. The commander of 
Army Group B, Field Marshal Model, 
transferred the XIII Corps to the Sev- 
enth Army, in the process drawing a new 
interarmy boundary running eastward 
from a point south of St. Vith through 
Pruem, a northward extension of re- 
sponsibility for the Seventh Army. Al- 
though the boundary with the Fifteenth 
Army remained for the moment about 
three miles south of Monschau, this 
boundary too was to be adjusted north- 
ward on 5 February to give the southern- 
most corps of the Fifteenth Army to 
Manteuffel's command, again a side- 

15 Material on the German side is from Bauer, 
The German Withdrawal From the Ardennes and 
the Western Front in Mid-January. 



60 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



slipping to the north. The third step, an 
exchange of sectors between headquar- 
ters of the Fifth Panzer and Fifteenth 
Armies in order to put a panzer com- 
mand in the path of the expected Allied 
main effort, was destined to be delayed 
by the attack in the Eifel. 

As events developed, early stages of the 
American drive into the Eifel would 
pass north of the Seventh Army, striking 
primarily at the front of the Fifth Panzer 
Army, manned by the LXVI Corps 
(General der Ar tiller ie Walter Lucht) 
and the LXVII Corps. It would later in- 
volve also the extreme south wing of the 
Fifteenth Army, a responsibility of the 
LXXIV Corps (General der Infanterie 
Karl Puechler) . 

Although the divisions committed in 
this sector still included such illustrious 
names as the 3d Parachute and pth Pan- 
zer, these were in reality little more than 
remnants of true divisions; and while 
they still fought, the German command 
would make little effort to rebuild them. 
The Germans planned instead to pull 
these once-elite formations from the line 
for rehabilitation in keeping with the 
theory that some respite would follow 
withdrawal into the West Wall. The 
Eastern Front had priority on replace- 
ments at this point in any case, and such 
replacements as did reach the west went 
to the infantry and volks grenadier di- 
visions that were to stay behind to hold 
the fortifications. 

In a general way, Allied intelligence 
anticipated this policy. It meant, in sum, 
that in an effort to create a reserve, the 
Germans would have to thin their ranks 
in the Eifel to a point where no coherent 
line would exist. Defense would have to 
be by strongpoints, relying of necessity 
on scraps and scratch outfits. The ragged 



ranks might be stiffened a little with 
concrete and barbed wire, their task 
eased by bad weather and rugged terrain, 
but the balance of forces remained hope- 
lessly against them. Recognizing this 
situation, the First U.S. Army's G-2, Col. 
Benjamin A. Dickson, expressed some 
optimism about the chances of swiftly 
cracking the West Wall and piercing the 
Eifel. 16 

In the last analysis, as the Third Army 
staff pointed out, quick success depended 
primarily on the enemy's will to fight. 
Poorly trained and ill-equipped troops 
could give good accounts of themselves 
even in the fortifications of the West 
Wall and the snowbound compartments 
of the Eifel only if they wanted to. 17 As 
the drive toward Euskirchen got under 
way, just how much the individual Ger- 
man soldier still wanted to fight was the 
question. 

A Try for Quick Success 

The first phase of the offensive was to 
be a frontal attack aimed at penetrating 
the West Wall on a 25-mile front from 
Monschau to Luetzkampen, near the 
northern tip of Luxembourg. \(Map 1) 
General Ridgway's XVIII Airborne 
Corps on the right wing of the First 
Army was to make the main effort. Hold- 
ing two infantry divisions in reserve for 
exploitation, Ridgway was to strike with 
two others to pierce the fortified line 
between the Schnee Eifel and the Weis- 
serstein astride the Losheim Gap. Named 
after a tnwn along the border, the gap is 
a narrow corridor that in 1914, 1940, and 
1944 had served German armies well as 

16 See, for example, FUSA G-3 Estimate No. 63, 
16 Jan 45. 
"TUSA G-3 Periodic Rpt, 27 Jan 45. 




MAP 1 



62 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Men of the 82D Airborne Division pull sleds in advancing through the Ar- 
dennes snow. 



a debouch^. Once through the gap, the 
airborne corps would have access to one 
of the main routes leading to Euskirchen. 

At the same time, General Huebner's 
V Corps on the north was to penetrate 
the western spur of the West Wall in the 
Monschau Forest and protect the army's 
left flank by crossing northern reaches of 
the Weisserstein and seizing Schleiden 
and Gemuend, both important road cen- 
ters astride a more circuitous but usable 
route to Euskirchen. To exploit success 
by either Huebner or Ridgway, the First 
Army's General Hodges held in reserve 



Collins's VII Corps with two infantry 
and two armored divisions. 18 

The Third Army's role in this first 
phase of the operation was to protect the 
First Army's right flank. General Patton 
planned to attack at first only with Mid- 
dleton's VIII Corps, whose northernmost 
division, the 87th, was to advance abreast 
of the XVIII Airborne Corps to the 
vicinity of Losheim while the 4th and 
90th Divisions to the south broke 



18 12th AGp Ltr of Instrs 12, 4 Jan 45; SHAEF 
Liaison Rpt 432, Intentions, 28 Jan 45, in 12th 
AGp 371.3, Military Objectives, V. 



MAIN EFFORT IN THE EIFEL 



63 



through the West Wall along and just 
south of the Schnee Eifel. These two 
divisions then were to block to the south- 
east, whereupon Patton intended to in- 
sert a fourth division on the right of the 
87 th to advance northeast with the 87 th. 
With protection of the First Army as- 
sured, Patton then might advance with 
three corps abreast northeast to the 
Rhine or turn southeast to take the West 
Wall in flank and roll it up southward 
to Trier. 19 

The line of departure for the attack 
was irregular. In the north, where units 
of the V Corps still held the positions on 
which they had stabilized the northern 
shoulder of the counteroffensive some 
weeks earlier, it ran from Monschau 
south to the ridgeline that served as an 
outpost of the Hohe Venn near Elsen- 
born. Below that point, the attack would 
begin from positions gained during the 
last few days of fighting. Those generally 
followed the highway leading into St. 
Vith from the north. Beyond St. Vith the 
line retracted to the southeast generally 
along the trace of the Our River and the 
German frontier. 

Thus the XVIII Airborne Corps still 
was from eight to twelve miles away 
from the forward pillboxes of the West 
Wall, which followed the eastward- 
bulging contour of the Belgian-German 
border. Since the countryside in this 
bulge is either heavily wooded or 
studded with villages, the troops making 
the main effort faced a difficult task even 
to reach the fortified line. 

The 1st Infantry and 82d Airborne 
Divisions of the XVIII Airborne Corps 
opened the attack on 28 January. The 
next day the VIII Corps attacked with 



1B TUSA Opnl Dir, 26 Jan 45. 



the 87th, 4th, and 90th Divisions. On the 
30th, the V Corps jumped off in the 
north. 

The story of all these first attacks could 
be told almost in a word: weather. By 
the end of January the month's un- 
usually heavy snowfall and low tempera- 
tures had left a snow cover one to two 
feet deep everywhere and in some places 
drifts up to a man's waist. Snow glazed 
the hills, choked the valleys and the 
roads, and hid the enemy's mines. On 
the first day, it snowed again all day and 
into the night. 20 

Plowing through the deep snow, the 
two divisions of the XVIII Airborne 
Corps encountered only sporadic opposi- 
tion, often taking the form of occasional 
patrols or scattered rifle fire. Yet men 
marching all day through the snow even 
without sight or sound of the enemy were 
exhausted when night came from sheer 
physical exertion. It would take the two 
divisions four full days to traverse the 
eight to twelve miles from their jump-off 
positions to the high ground confronting 
the West Wall in the Losheim Gap. 

It was in some ways a curious twilight 
war. One night, for example, a patrol 
from the 8sd Airborne Division, sent to 
investigate a report that the adjacent 
87 th Division had occupied a village near 
Losheim, found no soldiers, American or 
German. Behind blackout curtains the 
villagers had their lights on. Now and 
then a shell crashed nearby, and between 
times the paratroopers could hear babies 
crying. 

On the other hand, an enemy who was 
nowhere in particular might be any- 

20 Unless otherwise noted, the tactical story is 
based on official unit records and combat inter- 
views conducted soon after the action by historians 
of the European Theater Historical Section. 



64 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Traffic Jam on a Slick Ardennes Road 



where. As happened at the village of 
Holzheim, where on 29 January a com- 
pany of the 82d Airborne's 508th Para- 
chute Infantry seized 80 prisoners while 
overrunning the village. Leaving the 
prisoners under a 4-man guard, the bulk 
of the company had moved on when a 
German patrol sneaked back into the 
village, overpowered the guards, and 
freed the prisoners. Onto this scene 
stumbled the company's first sergeant, 
Leonard A. Funk, Jr. Surprised, he pre- 
tended to surrender, but as the Germans 
moved to disarm him, he swung his sub- 
machine gun from his shoulder and 



opened fire. Seizing German weapons, 
the 4-man guard joined the fight. In the 
melee that ensued, 21 Germans were 
killed and the rest again surrendered. 21 
Or as happened one night early in the 
attack when a platoon of paratroopers 
advanced down a narrow road between 
three-foot banks of snow thrown up by 
German plows. Three tanks rumbled be- 
tween the files of riflemen. Out of the 
darkness, dead ahead, suddenly appeared 
a German company, marching forward in 
close formation. The banks of hard snow 

21 Sergeant Funk was awarded the Medal of 
Honor. 



MAIN EFFORT IN THE EIFEL 



65 



on either side of the road meant no 
escape for either force. The paratroopers 
opened fire first, their accompanying 
tanks pouring withering machine gun 
fire into the massed enemy. Surprised 
and without comparable fire support, un- 
able to scatter or retreat, the Germans 
had no chance. Almost 200 were killed; 
a handful surrendered. Not an American 
was hurt. 

Foot troops moved slowly, but they 
could always move. Behind them ar- 
tillery, supply, service, and armored ve- 
hicles jammed the few cleared roads. 
Especially congested was the zone of the 
1st Division where every few hundred 
yards a partially destroyed village 
knotted the roadnet. When leading rifle- 
men of the 1st Division reached the West 
Wall, only one artillery battalion had 
managed to displace far enough forward 
to provide support. Trucks bringing 
food and ammunition often failed to get 
through. Had the opposition been de- 
termined, the traffic snarls could have 
proved serious; as it was, the only tactical 
result was to slow the advance. 

It was 1 February — the fifth day of the 
attack — before the two divisions of the 
XVIII Airborne Corps could begin to 
move against the West Wall itself. Close 
by on the right, reflecting the day's de- 
lay in starting to attack, the Third 
Army's 87th Division needed yet another 
day to reach the pillboxes. 

North and south of the main effort, 
the V Corps and the bulk of the VIII 
Corps hit the West Wall earlier. One 
division near Monschau, the gth, north- 
ernmost unit of the V Corps, was already 
inside the fortified zone at the time of 
the jump-off on 30 January. 

The gth Division (Maj. Gen. Louis A. 
Craig) , moving southeast from Mon- 



schau, and the 2d Division (Maj. Gen. 
Walter M. Robertson) , striking north 
through the twin border villages of 
Krinkelt-Rocherath, near Elsenborn, 
were to converge at a road junction 
within the Monschau Forest astride the 
northern end of the Weisserstein at a 
customs house called Wahlerscheid. Both 
divisions would have to pass through 
Wahlerscheid, a pillbox-studded strong- 
point, before parting ways again to con- 
tinue toward Schleiden and Gemuend. 
Contingents of the 99th Division mean- 
while were to clear the Monschau Forest 
west of the converging thrusts, and the 
Ninth Army's southernmost division was 
to make a limited objective attack to 
protect the left flank of the attacking 
corps. 

In the long run, the V Corps would 
benefit from the fact that its attack 
struck along the boundary between the 
Fifth Panzer and Fifteenth Armies, but 
in the early stages the presence of West 
Wall pillboxes would mean stiffer re- 
sistance than that against the main effort. 
Yet nowhere was the resistance genuinely 
determined. The Germans of General 
Puechler's LXXIV Corps and General 
Hitzfeld's LXVII Corps simply had not 
the means for that kind of defense. As 
elsewhere, deep snow was the bigger 
problem, while ground fog and low over- 
cast restricted observation for artillery 
and denied participation by tactical air- 
craft altogether. 

Approaching within a few hundred 
yards of the Wahlerscheid road junction 
late on 31 January, the 9th Division 
repulsed a counterattack by an under- 
strength German battalion. Soon there- 
after patrols discovered that the pillboxes 
at Wahlerscheid were organized for de- 
fense only to the south, a response to the 



66 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



fact that the 2d Division in December 
had hit these same pillboxes from the 
south in the abortive attack toward the 
Roer dams. The gth Division's 39th In- 
fantry moved in on the rear of the forti- 
fications early on 1 February. The 2d 
Division in the meantime was fighting 
its way through Krinkelt-Rocherath, 
scene of an epic stand by the same di- 
vision during the counteroffensive, and 
then moving into the Monschau Forest 
to come upon Wahlerscheid from the 
south. 

As night came on 1 February, both the 
2d and 9th Divisions were ready to file 
past Wahlerscheid. In three days the 
attack of the V Corps had begun to show 
genuine promise. 

On the south wing of the offensive, 
the 4th (General Blakeley) and 90th 
Divisions (Maj. Gen. Lowell W. Rooks) 
of the VIII Corps at the same time had 
run into the stiffest fighting of all, partly 
because of the obstacle of the Our River. 
The lines of departure of the two di- 
visions lay close to the Our, and for the 
90th and the right regiment of the 4th, 
crossing the river was the first order of 
business. Narrow and shallow, the Our 
was frozen solid at some points and easily 
fordable at others, but steep, slippery 
banks were a barrier to wheeled traffic 
and, as it turned out, to tracked vehicles 
as well. Yet what made the river most 
difficult was that it was tied into the West 
Wall defenses. Although the main line 
lay two to three miles behind the river, 
the Germans had erected at every likely 
crossing point fortified outpost positions. 

Aiming at the southern end of the 
Schnee Eifel, one regiment of the 4th 
Division on the first day, 29 January, 
tried to cross the Our four miles south- 
east of St. Vith. As the leading battalion 



approached the crossing site, a fury of 
small arms fire erupted from the east 
bank. Although one rifle platoon got 
across before the worst of the firing be- 
gan, the rest of the battalion backed off 
to look for another site. Casualties were 
relatively light — for the entire regiment 
for two days, 9 killed, 29 wounded — -but 
it was noon the next day before all men 
of the leading battalion were across the 
Our. 

A few miles to the south two regiments 
of the 90th Division had much the same 
experience. The leading battalions of 
each regiment came under intense fire at 
the selected crossing sites opposite the 
German outposts, but individual com- 
panies managed to maneuver to the 
south to cross the river and come upon 
the opposition from the rear. 

Despite these successes, the 4th and 
90th Divisions advanced only slowly 
through deep snow against scattered but 
determined nests of resistance for the 
next three days. Partial explanation lay 
in that both divisions were facing the 9th 
Panzer Division, a shell of a unit but one 
still capable of steadfast defense at se- 
lected points. By 1 February the 90th 
Division was in sight of the West Wall 
around the villages of Heckhuscheid and 
Grosskampenberg, while the 4th Di- 
vision still had several villages to clear 
before climbing the slopes of the Schnee 
Eifel. 22 

22 In advancing on Heckhuscheid just after night- 
fall on 1 February, Cpl. Edward A. Bennett's 
company of the goth Division's 358th Infantry 
came under heavy machine gun fire from a house 
on the edge of the village. Bennett crawled for- 
ward alone, dispatched a guard outside the house 
with a trench knife, then charged into the house 
and killed three Germans with his rifle, eliminated 
three more with a 45-caliber pistol, and clubbed 
a seventh to death. He was awarded the Medal of 
Honor. 



MAIN EFFORT IN THE EIFEL 



67 



These two divisions were destined to 
continue their attacks into the West Wall 
but as part of another operation. On 1 
February, the Damocles sword that had 
hung over the 12 th Army Group's of- 
fensive from its inception suddenly fell. 

A Shift to the North 

On 1 February General Eisenhower 
ordered General Bradley to cancel the 
12th Army Group's drive on Euskirchen 
and shift troops north to the Ninth 
Army. 23 He made the decision even 
though Bradley's thrust, while slowed by 
weather and terrain, was encountering 
no major opposition from the Germans. 
Only a complete breakthrough could 
have saved Bradley's offensive, and that 
was yet to come. 

Several considerations prompted the 
Supreme Commander's decision. Con- 
tinuing pressure from Field Marshal 
Montgomery, some feeling of pressure 
emanating from the meeting of the Com- 
bined Chiefs at Malta, Eisenhower's own 
unswerving conviction that the best way 
to victory was in the north against the 
Ruhr — all played a part. Also, Eisen- 
hower in mid-January apparently had 
given Montgomery at least an implicit 
promise that he would make a decision 
on Bradley's offensive by the first day of 
February. 24 

Eisenhower's order halting the Eifel 
offensive was in its formal, written form 
clear-cut. "It is of paramount impor- 
tance," the directive said, "... to close 

w Msg, SHAEF to CG's 12 th and 21 AGp's, S- 
77434, 1 Feb 45, 12th AGp 371.3, Military Objec- 
tives, V. 

M Ltr, Montgomery to Eisenhower, 12 Jan 45, 
Pogue files; Memo for Record, Bradley for G-3, 
17 Jan 45; 21 AGp Dir, M-548, 21 Jan 45. The last 
two in 12th AGp 371.3, Military Objectives, V. 



the Rhine north of Duesseldorf with all 
possible speed." 25 To achieve this, the 
First Canadian Army was to attack not 
later than 8 February and the Ninth 
Army not later than 10 February. The 
Ninth Army was to receive the equiva- 
lent of the resources loaned the 12 th 
Army Group at the start of the Ardennes 
counteroffensive, or at least five divisions. 
With thinned ranks, Bradley's armies 
were to go on the defensive except in the 
north where the First Army was to seize 
the Roer River dams and, subsequently, 
to jump the Roer to protect the Ninth 
Army's right flank. 

Informally, General Eisenhower modi- 
fied these terms considerably. Even 
though Bradley was to relinquish troops 
immediately to the Ninth Army, the 
Supreme Commander would allow his 
offensive in the Eifel to continue until 10 
February with the declared objective of 
gaining a line from Gemuend to Pruem 
that would include the Weisserstein and 
the Schnee Eifel and thus afford control 
of the Losheim Gap for possible future 
operations. Yet no matter how far this 
attack had progressed by 10 February, 
the First Army from that time was to 
concentrate on a primary mission of 
attacking across the Roer to protect the 
Ninth Army's flank. 28 

Disappointed with the Supreme Com- 
mander's decision, General Bradley 
nevertheless took hope in the possibility 
that he later might turn the First Army's 
attack across the Roer to the south, per- 
haps to join in a thrust by the Third 
Army to clear the entire Eifel region. In 
that General Eisenhower granted the 
Third Army permission to "continue the 

25 S-77434, 1 Feb 45. 

29 Notes on Conference with Army Comdrs, 2 Feb 
45, in 12th AGp, 371.3, Military Objectives, V. 



68 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



probing attacks now in progress," on the 
theory of preventing the enemy from 
shifting reinforcements to the north and 
with a view to taking advantage of any 
chance to improve the army's position 
for future action, Bradley found real en- 
couragement. At headquarters of the 
Third Army "probing attacks" were 
popularly known as the "defensive- 
offensive," which meant, in more widely 
understood terminology, a major attack. 
Bradley knew, too, that the Supreme 
Commander himself well understood 
General Patton's special lexicon. 27 

Patton's orders, issued on 3 February, 
scarcely mentioned defense. The Third 
Army, Patton directed, was to continue 
to attack on its left to seize Pruem, to 
drive northeast with its right from the 
vicinity of Echternach to take Bitburg, 
and to be prepared to continue to the 
Rhine. 28 

Since the job of taking Pruem fell 
naturally to the VIII Corps and thus 
constituted a continuation of the attack 
then in progress, though in a different 
context, the Third Army's drive into the 
Eifel was barely troubled by the decision 
of 1 February. The First Army was more 
severely straitened. While General Pat- 
ton gave up only two divisions to the 
Ninth Army, one of which was an inex- 
perienced unit from the army reserve, 
General Hodges had to surrender the 
two reserve infantry divisions of the 
XVIII Airborne Corps and the three di- 
visions of the VII Corps that had been 
standing by to exploit in the Eifel. Al- 
though headquarters of the VII Corps 

27 Ibid.; 12th AGp Ltr of Instrs, 7 Feb 45, con- 
firming previous oral orders; Omar N. Bradley, 
A Soldier's Story (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 
1951), p. 501. 

28 TUSA AAR, 1 Aug 44-9 May 45, vol. I, Opns, 
P- «55- 



was to remain under the First Army, 
General Collins was to assume responsi- 
bility for the southern portion of the 
Ninth Army's Roer River line, the same 
front the corps had held before the 
counteroffensive, and prepare to attack 
to protect the Ninth Army's flank. In 
addition, the V Corps had to mount an 
attack against the Roer dams. 

The First Army was to try again to 
penetrate the West Wall in the Eifel, but 
under the revised conditions chances of 
decisive success were meager. 

An End to the Offensive 

For four more days, through 4 Feb- 
ruary, the thrusts of the XVIII Airborne 
Corps and the V Corps continued much 
as before, particularly in the zone of the 
airborne corps where the 1st Infantry 
and 82d Airborne Divisions at last en- 
tered the West Wall. While not every 
pillbox was manned, the cold, the snow, 
the icy roads hindering support and sup- 
ply, and the strength lent the defense by 
concrete shelters still imposed slow go- 
ing. By 4 February the two divisions had 
advanced little more than a mile inside 
the German frontier, although a suffi- 
cient distance to insure control of the 
first tier of villages on a five-mile front 
within the Losheim Gap. The advance 
represented a penetration of the densest 
concentration of pillboxes in this part 
of the West Wall. 

The V Corps meanwhile made sub- 
stantially greater progress. Indeed, had 
any authority still existed to turn the 
Eifel drive into a major offensive, the 
advances of the V Corps after clearing 
the Wahlerscheid road junction on 1 
February might have been sufficient to 
justify alerting the forces of exploitation. 



MAIN EFFORT IN THE EIFEL 



69 



On 2 February both the 2d and gth Di- 
visions pushed almost four miles beyond 
Wahlerscheid, one in the direction of 
Schleiden, the other, Gemuend. 

Much of their success again could be 
attributed to the luck of striking astride 
the boundary between German units. As 
early as 29 January the northernmost 
unit of the LXVII Corps, the 277th 
Volks Grenadier Division around Krin- 
kelt-Rocherath, had lost contact with the 
southernmost unit of the LXXIV Corps, 
the 62d Infantry Division, whose south- 
ern flank was at Wahlerscheid. Even after 
the 277th Volks Grenadiers began to 
withdraw into the West Wall on the last 
two days of January, no contact or even 
communication existed between the two 
units. 29 

In driving southeast from Monschau, 
the gth Division had virtually wiped out 
the 62d Infantry Division. As units of 
both the 2d and gth Divisions poured 
northeast through the resulting gap at 
Wahlerscheid on 2 February, outposts of 
the 277th Division on higher ground two 
miles to the southeast could observe the 
American columns, but the 277th'?, com- 
mander, Generalmajor Wilhelm Viebig, 
had no way of determining what was 
going on. Although Viebig's artillery 
could have damaged the U.S. units, so 
seriously depleted were his ammunition 
stocks that he decided to fire only if the 
Americans turned in his direction. 

As darkness came on 2 February, 
Viebig's corps commander, General Hitz- 
feld, learned of the penetration. Order- 
ing Viebig to extend his flank to the 

29 German material is from Magna E. Bauer, MS 
# R-65, The Breakthrough of the West Wall Be- 
tween Ormont and Monschau. 



north, he also managed to put hands on 
small contingents of the 3d Panzer 
Grenadier Division, which had been 
withdrawn from the line for refitting. 
Yet despite these countermoves, the gth 
Division by nightfall of 3 February stood 
less than two miles from Gemuend, the 
2d Division only a few hundred yards 
from Schleiden. 

Had the Americans been intent on ex- 
ploiting their limited penetration, Hitz- 
feld would have been hard put to do 
anything about it, but the hope of major 
exploitation through the Eifel by the 
First Army was beyond recall. General 
Hodges on 4 February made it official 
with a letter of instructions spelling out 
various shifts of units for his newly as- 
signed tasks. 30 Not only was the VII 
Corps to move northward to take over 
a portion of the Ninth Army's Roer 
River line but the XVIII Airborne Corps 
also was to shift to assume responsibility 
for a part of the Roer line adjoining the 
VII Corps. The V Corps was to extend 
its positions southeastward to relieve the 
airborne corps while at the same time 
attacking to seize the Roer dams. 

Occurring late on 6 February, relief 
of the airborne corps signaled an end to 
the offensive in this part of the Eifel. The 
line as finally established ran along high 
ground overlooking Gemuend and 
Schleiden from the west, thence south- 
eastward across the northeastern arm of 
the Weisserstein to the boundary with 
the Third Army near Losheim. 

Blessed from the first with little more 
than ambition, the main effort in the 
Eifel had ground to a predictable halt. 

30 See First Army Report, .1 Aug 44-22 Feb. 45, 
PP- 154-55- 



CHAPTER IV 

The Roer River Dams 



In one of the more sharply etched sec- 
tors of the Eifel, a few miles northeast 
of Monschau, German civil engineers 
over the years had constructed seven 
dams to impound and regulate the flow 
of the waters of the Roer River and its 
tributaries. These were the dams the 
American soldier had come to know col- 
lectively as the Roer River dams, with 
particular reference to the two largest, 
the Urft and the Schwammenauel. 

Constructed just after the turn of the 
century on the Urft River downstream 
from Gemuend, near confluence of the 
Urft and the Roer, the Urft Dam creates 
a reservoir (the Urftstausee) capable of 
impounding approximately 42,000 acre- 
feet of water. Built in the mid-1930's a 
few miles to the north on the Roer near 
Hasenfeld, the Schwammenauel Dam 
creates a reservoir (the Roerstausee) ca- 
pable of impounding about 81,000 acre- 
feet. The Urft Dam is made of concrete; 
the Schwammenauel of earth with a con- 
crete core. It was these two dams that the 
Germans might destroy or open the gates 
of to manipulate the waters of the Roer, 
flooding a low-lying valley downstream to 
the north in the vicinity of the towns of 
Dueren and Juelich, washing out tactical 
bridges, and isolating any Allied force 
that had crossed the river. 1 



'A more detailed description of the dams is to 
be found in MacDonald, The Siegfried Line Cam- 
paign. 



From September through mid-Novem- 
ber, 1944, General Hodges' First Army 
had launched three separate one-division 
attacks through an almost trackless 
Huertgen Forest in the general direction 
of the dams, though with other objec- 
tives in mind. A combination of difficult 
terrain and unexpectedly sharp German 
reaction had stopped all three attacks 
well short of the dams. Realizing at last 
the importance of the dams to German 
defense of the Roer River line, the 
American command had tried to breach 
them with air strikes, but these too 
failed. In December a ground attack 
aimed specifically at seizing the dams had 
been cut short by the counteroffensive in 
the Ardennes. 2 

Those attacks launched through the 
Huertgen Forest had been directed to- 
ward commanding ground at the town 
of Schmidt, two miles north of the 
Schwammenauel Dam. The short-lived 
December attack had been planned as a 
two-pronged thrust with two divisions 
coming upon the dams from the south 
while another pushed northeastward 
from the vicinity of Monschau along the 
north bank of the Roer to Schmidt. 
Although the deep cut of the Roer and 



2 MacDonald, The Siegfried Line Campaign. 
Charles B. MacDonald and Sidney T. Mathews, 
Three Battles: Arnaville, Altutto and Schmidt, 
UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II 
(Washington, 1952), "Objective Schmidt." 



THE ROER RIVER DAMS 



71 



the reservoirs themselves would have 
imposed a tactical divorce on the two 
thrusts, the best approach to the Urft 
Dam was from the south and the high 
ground at Schmidt was essential to gain- 
ing and holding the Schwammenauel 
Dam. 

As the new V Corps commander, 
General Huebner, planned the Febru- 
ary attack on the dams, he apparently 
had the earlier planning in mind. 
Furthermore, attacks then under way 
as part of the fading drive into the Eifel 
fitted in with the two-pronged pattern 
of the earlier plan. The drives of the 2d 
and gth Divisions through Wahlerscheid 
on Gemuend and Schleiden had the 
secondary effect of threatening the Roer 
dams from the south, while a limited 
objective attack staged by the southern- 
most division of the Ninth Army to 
protect the left flank of the First Army 
had the secondary effect of setting the 
stage for a thrust northeastward from 
Monschau toward the Schwammenauel 
Dam. 

This division of the Ninth Army was 
the 78th (Maj. Gen. Edwin P. Parker, 
Jr.) . Through the Ardennes fighting the 
division had continued to hold positions 
near Monschau that had been reached 
in the December attack toward the 
dams. It was a foregone conclusion that 
when the boundary between the First 
and Ninth Armies was adjusted north- 
ward, the 78th would pass to the First 
Army and become the logical choice for 
renewing the attack on the Schwam- 
menauel Dam. Begun on 30 January, 
the division's limited objective attack to 
protect the First Army's left flank thus 
was a first step toward capturing the 
Schwammenauel Dam. 

The 78th Division occupied a small 




General Huebner 

salient about two miles deep into the 
forward band of the West Wall on a 
plateau northeast of Monschau. Con- 
taining sprawling villages as well as pill- 
boxes, the plateau was one of the few 
large clearings along the German border 
between Aachen and St. Vith. As such, 
it represented a likely avenue for pene- 
trating the West Wall and had been so 
used, though without signal success, in an 
attack in October. For want of a better 
name, the area has been called the Mon- 
schau corridor, though it is not a true 
terrain corridor, since entrance to it 
from the west is blocked by the high 
marshland of the Hohe Venn and farther 
east it is obstructed by dense forest and 
the cut of the Roer River. 

The enemy there was an old foe, hav- 
ing held the sector when the 78th made 
its first attack in mid-December and 



72 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



having tried in vain to penetrate the 
78th lines in early stages of the counter- 
offensive. This was the 272^ Volks 
Grenadier Division with a strength of 
about 6,000 men. 3 The division was a 
part of Puechler's LXXIV Corps of the 
Fifteenth Army, destined to be trans- 
ferred on 5 February to control of the 
Fifth Panzer Army. 11 

The object of the limited attack was 
to extend the 78th Division's holdings 
to the south and southeast to gain the 
north bank of the Roer River from 
Monschau to Einruhr, the latter guard- 
ing passage of the Roer along a highway 
leading southeast to Schleiden. The as- 
signment was to be divided between the 
311th Infantry on the east and the 310th 
Infantry on the west, each responsible 
for taking two of five villages in the 
target area. Attached to the 78th Divi- 
sion, Combat Command A (CCA) of 
the 5th Armored Division was to take 
the fifth village in the center with the 
help of a battalion of the 311th Infan- 
try. Because the 310th Infantry would 
be rolling up the West Wall as it ad- 
vanced, a platoon of British flame-throw- 
ing tanks, called Crocodiles, was assigned 
in support. 5 

The attack began with a good break. 
Although the division commander, Gen- 
eral Parker, had intended a half-hour 
artillery preparation, General Simpson, 
with an eye toward building a reserve 
for the Ninth Army's coming offensive, 
cut the ammunition allocation so dras- 



3 78th Div G-2 Estimate, 26 Jan 45. 
'See above, ch. III. 

5 A good unit history, Lightning — The Story of 
the 78th Infantry Division (Washington: Infantry 
Journal Press, 1947), supplements official records. 



tically that Parker had to reduce the 
preparation to five minutes. Accustomed 
to longer shelling before an American 
attack, the Germans in the pillboxes in 
front of the 310th Infantry waited under 
cover for the fire to continue. They 
waited too long. In a matter of minutes, 
men of the 310th Infantry were all 
around them. In three hours they cleared 
thirty-two pillboxes and took the village 
of Konzen. Their final objective, the 
next village to the south, fell the next 
morning. So swift was the success that 
the flame-throwing tanks saw little use. 

In the center, the tanks of CCA had 
trouble with mines concealed by deep 
snow, but by late afternoon they man- 
aged to work their way in the wake of 
the infantry to the fringe of Eicher- 
scheid. With infantrymen close behind 
them, they roared into the village and 
began a systematic mop-up just as dark- 
ness, came. 

Only on the extreme left wing of the 
3 1 1 th Infantry, at Kesternich on the 
road to Einruhr, was the story basically 
different. There the 2d Battalion already 
held a few of the westernmost houses, 
the sole lasting gain from a bitter fight 
for the village in December. Yet despite 
long familiarity with the terrain and the 
most minute planning, the first com- 
panies to enter the main part of the 
village found control almost impossible. 
Although the men had studied the loca- 
tion of the houses from a map, they were 
difficult to recognize. Many were de- 
stroyed, some were burning, and the 
snow hid landmarks. Communications 
with tankers of the supporting 736th 
Tank Battalion failed early. Mines ac- 



THE ROER RIVER DAMS 



73 



counted for two tanks, antitank fire two 
more. 6 

With the Germans doggedly defending 
each building, it took two full days to 
clear the last resistance from Kesternich. 
Capturing the town might have taken 
even longer had it not been for a squad 
leader in Company E, S. Sgt. Jonah E. 
Kelley. Each time Kelley's squad as- 
saulted a building, he was the first to 
enter. Although wounded twice early in 
the fighting, he refused evacuation. His 
left hand useless, he continued to fire his 
rifle by resting it across his left forearm. 
Late on the second day, Kelley led an 
assault on a machine gun position. Ger- 
man fire cut him down as he expended 
the last three rounds from his rifle and 
knocked out the machine gun. 7 

In the two-day action, the 311th 
Infantry lost 224 men, the bulk of them 
from the 2d Battalion. Just why Kester- 
nich cost so much became clear as artil- 
lery observers found they could direct 
observed fire from the village on all 
remaining German positions west of the 
Roerstausee. 

Toward Schmidt 

In advance of the pending shift of the 
First Army's boundary to the north, the 
78th Division on 2 February passed to 
operational control of the V Corps. That 
evening the division commander, Gen- 
eral Parker, traveled to headquarters of 
the V Corps to receive from General 
Huebner the order for the capture of 

8 Organized and trained to operate amphibious 
tanks in the invasion of Normandy, the 736th had 
been converted to a standard tank battalion in 
November but had received no medium tanks un- 
til January. See 736th Tank Bn Hist. 

7 Sergeant Kelley was awarded the Medal of 
Honor posthumously. 



Schmidt and the Schwammenauel Dam. 
The task, Huebner told Parker, was the 
most vital at that time on the entire 
Western Front; until the dam was in 
hand, the Ninth Army dared not cross 
the Roer. Added to this glare of the 
spotlight was the fact that the 78th 
Division had had only limited battle 
experience and the fact that the very 
name of the town of Schmidt had be- 
come a kind of bugaboo among Ameri- 
can soldiers after the beating another 
division had taken there in November. 
All the ingredients for a bad case of the 
jitters were present at the start. 

As General Parker prepared his plan 
of attack, it was obvious that terrain 
would narrowly restrict the force that 
could be applied against Schmidt and 
the dam. Schmidt lies spread-eagled on 
the eastern slopes of a high hill mass, in 
general an east-west ridge with fingers 
poking out to north, northeast, and 
south. Adjacent high ground to the 
north beyond the little Kail River, which 
in German hands had contributed to 
failure at Schmidt in November, was 
controlled by the neighboring XIX 
Corps. 

It would be hard to get at Schmidt 
along the route from the southwest that 
the 78th Division had to take. Except 
for a narrow woods trail from Woffels- 
bach, close by the Roerstausee, the only 
feasible approach from this direction is 
along a lone main road following the 
crest of the Schmidt ridge. The road 
passes from the open ground of the 
Monschau corridor through more than 
a mile of dense evergreen forest before 
emerging again into broad fields several 
hundred yards west of Schmidt, where it 
climbs Hill 493 before descending into 
the town. A narrow but militarily im- 



74 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



m 



The Urft Dam 



portant feeder road parallels the main 
road on the north for a few miles before 
joining the main road at a point where 
the Germans had constructed a nest of 
wooden barracks, believed to be strongly 
fortified. 

In addition to normal attachments, the 
78th Division was to be reinforced by 
the reserve combat command of the 7th 
Armored Division, an engineer combat 
battalion, fires of V Corps and 7th Ar- 
mored artillery, and planes of the XIX 
Tactical Air Command. Jump-off was 
scheduled for 0300, 5 February. 

General Parker intended first to clear 



the rest of the Monschau corridor and 
seize a line running inside the woods 
from the Kail River in the north through 
the nest of barracks to the Roerstausee. 
(Map 2) From there the attack was to 
proceed almost due east along the axis 
of the main road into Schmidt, thence, 
while subsidiary drives secured villages 
north and east of the town, southeast to 
the Schwammenauel Dam. The 309th 
Infantry, attacking with its 3d Battalion 
from within the Monschau corridor at 
Rollesbroich, was to make the main ef- 
fort in the first phase, seizing the bar- 
racks at the juncture of the feeder road 



THE ROER RIVER DAMS 



75 




The Schwammenauel Dam 



and the main highway. Thereupon the 
310th Infantry was to pass through and 
take Schmidt. 

The attack began on a bright note, 
for late in the afternoon of 4 February 
a company of the 9th Division reached 
the Urft Dam after little more than a 
cross-country march. Although American 
artillery fire had done some damage to 
outlet tunnels, the big dam still was in- 
tact. 

The beginning of the 78th Division's 
attack went well — unexpectedly well. 
The 3d Battalion, 309th Infantry (Lt. 
Col. Floyd C. Call) , got off on time at 
0300, 5 February, and in rain-drenched 



darkness moved cross-country through a 
web of pillboxes. The infantrymen slip- 
ped past at least 35 concrete pillboxes 
and bunkers from which 135 Germans 
later emerged; but not a shot disturbed 
them. 

As the battalion advanced through 
successive checkpoints and the word 
came back over the field telephones, "No 
enemy contact," commanders prepared 
the next step. It looked like a penetra- 
tion, but could it be exploited? Engi- 
neers and reconnaissance troops moved 
out to see if the roads were clear, partic- 
ularly the feeder road north of the main 
highway, the main axis of the 3ogth's 



76 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




MAP 2 



advance. Meanwhile, other troops of the 
division, including attached tanks of the 
7th Armored Division's CCR, prepared 
to clear the remaining villages in the 
Monschau corridor. 

A little after daylight, General Parker 
alerted the 310th Infantry for an im- 
mediate move through the 309th. Fifteen 
minutes later Colonel Call reported his 



battalion "advancing toward the final 
objective" and meeting small arms fire 
for the first time. 8 Shortly thereafter the 
infantrymen of the 309th overran the 
German barracks, catching some men 
sleeping, others eating breakfast. Move- 
ment orders for the 310th Infantry, 



310th Inf Jnl, 5 Feb 45, entry 0726. 



THE ROER RIVER DAMS 



77 



meanwhile, had to await inspection of 
the road. Inevitably, that took time. 

During the wait the commanders 
considered other possibilities. General 
Parker thought of sending the 309th out 
farther than originally planned. General 
Huebner at V Corps contemplated more 
drastic changes. Before 0830 he ordered 
the 78th Division to form a task force 
built around the 311th Infantry to cross 
the Roer at Ruhrberg over the Paulu- 
shof regulating dam, one of the lesser 
dams in the Roer system, plow through 
rough, wooded country between the 
Urftstausee and the Roerstausee, and 
come upon the Schwammenauel Dam 
from the south. At the same time the 
9th Division was to send a force across 
the Urft Dam to block forest roads that 
the Germans might use to move against 
the 311th Infantry. 9 These maneuvers 
were to take place during the night of 
6 February. In the meantime the main 
effort by the 78th Division against 
Schmidt was to continue. 

Shortly before 0900 on the 5th it be- 
came clear that mines and craters for the 
present ruled out use of either the feeder 
road or the main highway toward 
Schmidt. The 310th Infantry, General 
Parker ordered, was to proceed cross- 
country without supporting weapons. In 
two hours the infantrymen were on the 
march. 

Men of the 309th Infantry meanwhile 
had begun to run into resistance as the 
Germans awoke to their threat. A com- 
pany on the right received what was 
reported to be a counterattack, though 
it apparently was no more than an ag- 
gressive defense by a few German squads. 
A fire fight took place nevertheless, and 

"V Corps Ltr of Instrs 051030 Feb 45, as cited 
in V Corps Opns in ETO, p. 376. 



in the woods where control is difficult, it 
checked the advance. The attack, which 
had flamed so brilliantly, began to show 
signs of sputtering out. 

With so much at stake, commanders 
grew uneasy. General Parker an hour 
before noon ordered the 309th Infantry 
to go as far as possible beyond the bar- 
racks and at the same time directed the 
310th Infantry not to move into forward 
assembly areas as planned but to pass 
immediately through advance units of 
the 309th Infantry and press the attack. 
These orders stood less than fifteen 
minutes; the corps commander, General 
Huebner, intervened. It seemed to 
Huebner unsound in the face of seem- 
ingly slight resistance to halt the attack 
while waiting for a new regiment to 
take over. The 309th, moreover, was the 
freshest unit in the division. At his in- 
stigation, the 309th was to continue to 
Schmidt, reinforced by its 1st Battalion, 
heretofore attached to the 310th Infan- 
try. All troops were to advance without 
supporting weapons until roads could 
be opened. 10 

The order was difficult to execute. 
The 1st Battalion of the 309th in order 
to rejoin its parent regiment had to pass 
through two battalions of the 310th that 
had already begun to move forward. It 
was two hours before men of this bat- 
talion began to pass through and late 
afternoon before they arrived at the 
forward positions. The 2d Battalion had 
been clearing pillboxes around the 
barracks and could not assemble 
immediately to move on to the east. The 
3rd Battalion still was mopping up the 
pillbox belt that had been negotiated so 
rapidly before dawn by the 2d Battalion. 

As night came, General Parker — ap- 

10 78th Div AAR, Feb 45. 



78 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



parently with the concurrence of Gener- 
al Huebner — directed that all units 
resume their original missions. The 
310th Infantry was to pass through the 
309th at 0300 the next morning, 6 Feb- 
ruary. 

Both regiments were in low spirits, 
thoroughly confused by the day of 
changing orders. 11 Men of at least one 
battalion of the 309th learned that both 
division and corps commanders were 
displeased with their performance. The 
men of the 310th Infantry were tired, 
wet, and frustrated, and the regimental 
commander warned that they would be 
in poor condition for the next day's 
attack. The day of 5 February closed on 
frayed nerves. 

While the 311th Infantry had escaped 
most of the confusion, that regiment's 
progress, too, was slow. The order to 
cross the Roer at Ruhrberg General 
Huebner canceled in the afternoon when 
reconnaissance revealed that the Ger- 
mans had blown a great gap in the road- 
way over the Paulushof Dam and that 
the swollen Roer was too deep and swift 
to ford. 

The order never had interrupted 
operations. One battalion continued to 
push across cruel terrain north of 
Ruhrberg, the back way to Schmidt. Al- 
though resistance was never resolute, the 
job of clambering through woods, up 
and down steep hills, and challenging a 
succession of pillboxes wore the men out. 
Yet they took the hamlet of Woffelsbach 
and thus, by nightfall, were roughly on a 
line with the 309th Infantry in the main 
attack. 

Since all attempts to speed the main 
attack had failed and one had backfired 

11 310th Inf Jnl, 5 Feb 45, entry 1849; Combat 
interviews with men of 3d Bn, 309th Inf. 



in added delays, pressure for quick 
success increased. General Huebner or- 
dered that the attack on Schmidt itself be 
made at daylight on 6 February and 
that the Schwammenauel Dam be taken, 
if possible, the same day. The First Army 
commander, General Hodges, was to 
arrive at the division command post in 
the morning, which was a military eu- 
phemism for "Get cracking, or else!" 

At 0300 on 6 February, the 310th In- 
fantry began passing through the lines 
of the 309th with two battalions in 
column, but hardly had the men crossed 
their line of departure when they came 
under intense grazing fire from auto- 
matic weapons. As the men went to 
ground, commanders temporarily lost 
control. At daylight, the men rallied, but 
commanders in the thick woods had no 
real idea where they were. The day was 
overcast, and dim light filtering through 
heavy fir branches scarcely brightened 
the gloom under the trees. Enemy artil- 
lery and mortar fire ranged in. One bat- 
talion counted about 200 rounds of 
mortar fire in half an hour. Apparently 
unobserved, the shelling caused few 
casualties, but it was enough to stymie 
advance. Tanks coming up the road to 
support the attack drew antitank fire 
and backed into hull defilade out of 
contact with the infantry. 

In early afternoon the infantry tried 
a new attack, but it had no punch. Since 
observers were unable to adjust artillery 
by sight in the thick woods, artillery 
preparation was worse than useless, serv- 
ing only to fell trees and branches in the 
path of the infantry. Commanders still 
had only a vague idea of where the men 
were. 

Just before dusk, Company A on the 
extreme right walked into an ambush. 



THE ROER RIVER DAMS 



79 



The Germans allowed the lead platoon 
to pass through their positions, then 
opened heavy small arms fire on the 
company headquarters and two platoons 
that followed. The incident disorganized 
the company and produced wild rumors 
in the rear. Artillery observers reported 
that the entire right flank was disin- 
tegrating; Company A was "cut to 
pieces." 12 At division headquarters word 
was that a substantial counterattack was 
in progress and had achieved a con- 
siderable penetration. Seven men from 
Company A reported at regimental 
headquarters that they were the sole 
survivors. 

The truth was that there had been no 
counterattack and no penetration, but 
defensive fires from what may have been 
the enemy's main line of resistance were 
heavy and damaging. The 310th Infan- 
try commander, Col. Thomas H. Hayes, 
decided to call off the attack for the 
night, pulling his advance battalion back 
to consolidate with another in a night- 
time defensive position. Seventy-five men 
of Company A filtered back to join the 
defense. 

As night came, men of the 310th In- 
fantry had little to console them for the 
day's sacrifices. Instead of attacking 
Schmidt, they had barely struggled past 
the line of departure. Paying the penalty 
for the confusion and haste of the day 
before, they had blundered under pres- 
sure from higher headquarters into an 
ill-prepared attack in the darkness 
through unknown woods against un- 
known positions and had suffered the 
consequences that basic training doc- 
trine predicts. 

To give the stumbling attack a boost, 



"S-8-S-3 Jnl, 310th Inf, 6 Feb 45. 



General Parker on 7 February commit- 
ted all three of his regiments. The 310th 
Infantry was to continue along the axis 
of the main road and take the crest of 
the high ground, Hill 493 outside 
Schmidt. The 309th Infantry on the left 
was to drive northeast through the woods 
to Kommerscheidt, just north of 
Schmidt. The 311th Infantry on the 
right was to push northeast through the 
woods from Wo ff els bach and take 
Schmidt itself. 

Although a half-hdur artillery prepara- 
tion preceded the new attack, it fell on 
German positions manned at that point 
only by a small rear guard. Having 
managed to use the dense woods and 
American errors to sufficient advantage 
to make a stiff fight of it for a while, 
the 272^ Folks Grenadier Division, lack- 
ing depth, had fallen back during the 
night. The 309th Infantry met little 
opposition until it reached Kommer- 
scheidt. There a heavy concentration of 
mortar fire sent the men diving into 
water -filled shellholes and foxholes, relics 
of the November fighting. Men of the 
310th Infantry, accompanied by tanks 
of the 744th Tank Battalion, walked 
and occasionally rode along the main 
road to occupy Hill 493 by midmorning. 

In the rough wooded terrain on the 
right, the 311th Infantry had slower 
going, but with considerable finesse men 
of the leading battalion surrounded and 
knocked out a succession of pillboxes. 
At small cost to themselves, they gath- 
ered in 117 prisoners during the day. 
Taking advantage of the 310th Infantry's 
advance to Hill 493, another battalion 
of the 311th Infantry with the support 
of a company of tanks marched down 
the main road toward Schmidt and ar- 
rived at the woods line in time to launch 



80 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



an attack in early afternoon. With in- 
fantrymen riding the tanks, the column 
prepared to make a dash over the crest 
of Hill 493 and across a mile of open 
fields into the town. 

Hardly had the lead tank crossed the 
crest of the hill when armor- piercing 
shells struck it three times. As the tank 
burst into flames, the other tanks scur- 
ried back to the woods line. 

Reorganizing, the infantry set out to 
do the job alone. Covered by fire from 
light machine guns, one company 
plunged across the crest of the hill. 
Despite persistent German fire, most o£ 
the men had by late afternoon gained 
the westernmost houses in the northern 
part of the town. Another company tried 
to come in through a draw south of 
Schmidt but found the approach covered 
by fire from automatic weapons. Night 
was falling as the company gained the 
first houses. Only at this point did the 
tanks arrive to help in a house-to-house 
mop-up of the town. 

Toward the Dam 

On the same day that the first Ameri- 
can troops entered Schmidt, 7 February, 
a regiment of the 82d Airborne Division 
began to attack southward across the 
corps boundary to cross the deep draw 
of the Kail River and move cross-country 
to cut the enemy's escape route from 
Schmidt, the road from Schmidt north- 
east to the Roer at Nideggen. Terrain 
imposed such limits on the advance that 
by the time the 311th Infantry got to 
Schmidt, little hope remained for a siz- 
able prisoner bag. The next day another 
regiment of the 82d Airborne crossed 
the Kail gorge and relieved the 309th 
Infantry in Kommerscheidt so that the 



309th could participate in the final thrust 
on the Schwammenauel Dam. 

General Parker's plan for the final 
thrust called for the 310th Infantry to 
pass through Schmidt early on 8 Feb- 
ruary and drive east and southeast along 
the highway to Hasenfeld at the foot of 
the dam. As soon as the 310th had ad- 
vanced far enough along this road to 
uncover a line of departure for an attack 
southward against the dam, the 309th 
Infantry was to follow and move cross- 
country to take the dam. 

If this plan was to be executed swiftly, 
Schmidt had to be fully in hand, a con- 
dition General Parker believed already 
met. On 8 February the men of the 310th 
Infantry discovered otherwise. Many of 
the houses, particularly those along the 
road to Hasenfeld, remained to be 
cleared, and the Germans yielded none 
without a fight. Noontime came and 
went, and the 310th still was battling to 
get past the last houses and into the 
open. 

The First Army commander, General 
Hodges, made no effort to hide his dis- 
satisfaction with the pace of the attack. 
The target date for the Ninth Army's 
offensive across the lower reaches of the 
Roer, 10 February, was little more than 
a day away; but not until the 78th took 
the dam could the Ninth Army move. 
The First Army artillery commander, 
Brig. Gen. Charles E. Hart, had seen to 
it that 40 battalions of artillery (780 
guns) could be called upon to help the 
attack; General Hodges found it hard to 
understand why with this amount of 
artillery they could not "blast a road 
from our present front line positions 
straight to the dam." 13 



Sylvan Diary, entries of 6 and 8 Feb 45. 



THE ROER RIVER DAMS 



81 



Shortly before noon on 8 February, 
General Hodges telephoned the V Corps 
commander, General Huebner, to ex- 
press again his dissatisfaction. A few 
minutes later the commander of the gth 
Division, General Craig, walked into the 
V Corps headquarters on a routine visit. 
How long, Huebner asked Craig, would 
it take to shift a combat team of the gth 
Division to Schmidt to attack the dam? 
Craig said he could do it "immediately." 
Huebner told him to move not only a 
combat team but also the division head- 
quarters. When Craig arrived in 
Schmidt, the 78th Division's 309th and 
31 ith Regiments were to be attached to 
the gth Division. 14 

Placing a telephone call to his division 
command post, General Craig urged such 
speed in the movement that first units 
of his division already were en route to 
Schmidt before he himself got back to 
his command post. Turning over its 
sector to the 2d Division, the 60th In- 
fantry led the way. A second regiment 
followed as a reserve, while the third 
regiment remained behind under at- 
tachment to the 2d Division. By mid- 
night men of the gth were in Schmidt 
getting set to attack before daybreak the 
next morning. 

General Craig directed the 3 1 1 th In- 
fantry to clear wooded high ground 
along the north and northeast banks of 
the Roerstausee while the 60th Infan- 
try took over the drive to Hasenfeld. The 
3ogth Infantry remained on alert to 
move against the dam itself. 

Despite the introduction of a new 



"Capt. Joseph M. Mittelman, Eight Stars to 
Victory, A History of the Veteran Ninth U.S. In- 
fantry Division (Washington: Ninth Division As- 
sociation, 1948), p. 309; Sylvan Diary, entry of 8 
Feb 45. 



commander and a veteran unit, the go- 
ing on 9 February again was slow. Not 
until late afternoon did either the 60th 
Infantry on the road to Hasenfeld or the 
311th Infantry along the northeast bank 
of the reservoir advance far enough to 
enable the 309th Infantry to begin its 
attack against the dam. It was 1800 — 
after nightfall in this period of short 
winter days — when the leading 1st Bat- 
talion, 309th, passed through the 3 1 1 th 
Infantry and headed for the dam. 

Groping through the darkness, the 1st 
Battalion upon approaching the dam 
split into two groups, one to gain the top 
of the dam and cross over, the other to 
reach the lower level and take the power 
house. Those men moving against the 
lower level were particularly apprehen- 
sive lest the Germans at any moment 
blow the dam, sending tons of concrete, 
earth, and water cascading down upon 
them. 

With the upper group was a team 
from the 303d Engineer Battalion, spe- 
cially briefed on the nature of the big 
dam. The engineers pressed forward at 
2300 to begin a search for demolitions. 
German fire at first forced them back, 
but by midnight they were at last able to 
start. 

The engineers intended to cross the 
dam to the spillway and there descend 
into an inspection tunnel that intelli- 
gence reports stated ran through the 
dam. Crouched low against continuing 
German rifle fire, the men raced across 
but found a portion of the spillway 
blown and access to the tunnel denied. 
There was only one other way, to slide 
down the 200-foot face of the dam and 
gain the tunnel through its bottom exit. 

Although the task was slow and 
treacherous, the engineers accomplished 



82 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Damage to the Schwammenauel Dam causes flooding of the Roer River. 



it. Entering the tunnel, they expected at 
any moment to be blown to kingdom 
come. The explosion never came. Sub- 
sequent investigation revealed that the 
Germans already had done all the dam- 
age intended. They had destroyed the 
machinery in the power room and had 
blown the discharge valves. They had 
also destroyed the discharge valves on a 
penstock that carried water from the 
upper reservoir on the Urft to a point 
of discharge below the Schwammenauel 
Dam, which explained why they had 
allowed the Urft Dam itself to fall into 
American hands intact. Together the 



two demolitions would release no major 
cascade of water but a steady flow calcu- 
lated to create a long-lasting flood in the 
valley of the Roer. 15 

Allied commanders could breathe 
easily again. The reservoirs that directly 
and indirectly had cost so many lives at 
last were in hand. It would have been 
better, of course, had the Schwam- 
menauel Dam been taken intact, thus 

15 Lightning, pp. 118-20, contains a vivid account 
of the engineer action. In comments on the draft 
MS for this volume, General von Manteuffel notes 
that Hitler had specifically ordered that the dams 
be destroyed but, Manteuffel says, he had for- 
bidden it. 



THE ROER RIVER DAMS 



83 



obviating any change in the Ninth 
Army's plan for crossing the Roer; but 
it was enough that the Germans had 
been forced to expend their weapon 
before any Allied troops had crossed the 
river downstream. 

In the end the success belonged basi- 
cally to the 78th Division. For all the dis- 
satisfaction with the pace of the attack, 
this relatively inexperienced division 
had driven through rugged terrain over 
a severely canalized approach. Dense 



forest had nullified much of the artil- 
lery's power, as weather did for air sup- 
port. Too many cooks had appeared 
from time to time to meddle in the tacti- 
cal broth, but once the pressure was off 
and the division's role could be assessed 
with some perspective, General Huebner 
could remark to General Hodges that he 
had "made him another good divi- 
sion." 18 



Sylvan Diary, entry o£ 10 Feb 45. 



CHAPTER V 



The Drive on Pruem 



Since General Eisenhower's order of 
1 February ending the 12 th Army 
Group's main effort in the Eifel author- 
ized the Third Army to "continue the 
probing attacks now in progress," Gen- 
eral Middleton's VIII Corps was able to 
pursue its offensive almost without 
pause. The Third Army commander, 
General Patton, nevertheless altered the 
objective of the attack and provided 
additional strength. No longer was the 
Third Army affording flank protection 
for the First Army but instead was pre- 
paring the way for what Patton hoped 
could be developed eventually into a 
two-pronged drive to breach the West 
Wall on a wide front and drive on 
through the Eifel to the Rhine. 

General Patton told Middleton to go 
beyond the Schnee Eifel ridgeline and 
take the road center of Pruem. Even 
before this objective was in hand, he 
hoped to start General Eddy's XII Corps 
on a drive northeastward from the 
vicinity of Echternach to take Bitburg, 
the other major road center in the west- 
ern Eifel. Having thus carved out a deep 
foothold inside the Eifel, he would pos- 
sess a fulcrum for persuading his su- 
periors to support an offensive the rest 
of the way to the Rhine. 1 

The VIII Corps zone remained as 



before, approximately sixteen miles wide 
from the Loshiem Gap in the north to 
Luetzkampen, near the northern tip of 
Luxembourg. Three divisions already 
were in line, the 87th on the north, the 
4th in the center, and the 90th on the 



south. (Map III) 



1 TUSA AAR, 1 Aug 44-9 May 45, p. 255; TUSA 
Opnl Dir, 3 Feb 45; Gay Diary, entries of 3-5 
Feb 45. 



Commanded now by Brig. Gen. Frank 
L. Culin, Jr., the 87th Division was to 
protect the corps north flank, a task of 
considerable importance since the adja- 
cent divisions of the First Army were no 
longer advancing abreast. The 87th was 
to accomplish its mission by penetrating 
the West Wall and seizing a crossroads 
astride northern reaches of the Schnee 
Eifel ridge. In corps reserve, General Kil- 
burn's 11th Armored Division was to be 
ready to use a part of its strength to pro- 
tect the south flank of the corps, where 
the III Corps between Middleton's and 
Eddy's commands was to remain at first 
on the defensive. 

The 4th and 90th Divisions together 
were to make the main attack. The 4th 
was to advance through the West Wall 
astride the Schnee Eifel north of the 
West Wall strongpoint of Brandscheid, 
then wheel against Brandscheid. With 
the strongpoint taken, the 4th was to 
turn the town over to the 90th Division 
and continue eastward to Pruem. The 
90th Division was to widen the breach 
in the West Wall to include Habscheid, 
two and a half miles southwest of 



THE DRIVE ON PRUEM 



85 



Brandscheid, then go on to take Prons- 
feld, another road center on the Pruem 
River five miles south of Pruem. 2 

Since no unit of the VIII Corps had 
yet entered the main part of the West 
Wall, no one could say with any certain- 
ty how completely and effectively the 
Germans had manned the line. Although 
patrols had found some bunkers un- 
defended, it was unreasonable to suppose 
that the Germans would abandon the 
whole belt of fortifications. 3 

On the basis of identifications made 
in the drive up to the West Wall, the 
Americans believed that the Germans in 
front of the VIII Corps possessed rem- 
nants of 7 divisions with a possible total 
strength of about 7,000 perhaps sup- 
ported by as many as 15 artillery battal- 
ions. Another 4,500 men of 3 panzer-type 
divisions with possibly 70 tanks and 
assault guns might be in tactical re- 
serve. 4 Thus in at least the first stages, 
the defenders would be pitting some- 
thing like a reinforced company against 
each attacking regiment. 

This was, in reality, a generally correct 
estimate of the German situation. What 
intelligence officers failed to note was 
that again the Americans would achieve 
an advantage by attacking almost astride 
a German interarmy boundary, that 

2 Unless otherwise noted, the tactical story is 
based on official unit records and combat inter- 
views. See also Hal D. Steward, Thunderbolt — The 
History of the Eleventh Armored Division (Wash- 
ington: Infantry Journal Press, 1948); Gerden F. 
Johnson, History of the Twelfth Infantry Regi- 
ment in World War II (Boston: National Fourth 
Division Assoc., 1947); Joe I. Abrams, A History of 
the 90th Division in World War II (Baton Rouge: 
Army-Navy Publishing Co., 1946); A Historical 
and Pictorial Record of the 8jth Infantry Division 
in World War II (Baton Rouge: Army-Navy Pub- 
lishing Co., 1946). 

3 VIII Corps G-2 Estimate 19, 4 Feb 45. 

4 Ibid. 




General Middleton 



between the LXVI Corps of the Fifth 
Panzer Army on the north and the XIII 
Corps of the Seventh Army on the south. 
As established near the end of January, 
the boundary ran generally southeast- 
ward between Pronsfeld and Pruem. 5 

In the two German corps, the task of 
trying to hold the West Wall had been 
detailed to volks grenadier divisions, 
none of which exceeded regimental 
strength even when reinforced by rear 
area security battalions that occupied 
some of the West Wall bunkers. All the 
more elite formations had left the line 
for rehabilitation or to assume reserve 



5 The German story is based on OKW situation 
maps for the period and the following manu- 
scripts: MSS # B-041 (Generalmajor Hans-Kurt 
Hoecker, CG i6jth Volks Grenadier Division); # 
B-123 (Generalmajor Rudolf Freiherr von Gers- 
dorff, CofS, Seventh Army); # B-561 (General- 
major Karl Wagener, CofS, Fifth Panzer Army); # 
C-020 (Schramm). 



86 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



roles. The last troops of the $th Panzer 
Division^ for example, had departed the 
LXVI Corps only two days earlier to be 
rebuilt before shifting to the north 
against the expected Allied main effort. 
What was left of the jth Parachute Divi- 
sion — little more than a Kampfgruppe — 
still belonged to the XIII Corps but was 
out of the line in a backup position. 
Remnants of the 2d Panzer Division with 
a few tanks also were still around but in 
a reserve role for the Seventh Army. 
Artillery support averaged about two 
understrength battalions per front-line 
division, though additional support 
could be provided by a volks artillery 
corps located astride the interarmy 
boundary. The West Wall, on which 
German commanders counted strongly 
to offset the shift of troops to the north, 
was thinner astride the Schnee Eifel than 
anywhere else along the frontier. 
Furthermore, American troops occupy- 
ing the Schnee Eifel from September 
until the beginning of the Ardennes 
counteroffensive had demolished many 
of the pillboxes. 

Into the West Wall 

The VIII Corps' 4th Division knew 
the demolished pillboxes well; it was 
the same unit that had attacked the 
Schnee Eifel in September. The division 
would get a rare opportunity to refight 
an earlier engagement over the same 
ground, under similar conditions of 
enemy strength, against at least one of 
the earlier opponents. Little would be 
changed except the weather and stronger 
support on the division's flanks. 

In September two regiments of the 4th 
Division had caught the Germans un- 
prepared atop the Schnee Eifel and had 



peeled off to left and right to clear the 
thin line of pillboxes, seize Brandscheid, 
and make room for the division's third 
regiment in the center. Yet no sooner 
had the infantrymen emerged from the 
woods cover of the Schnee Eifel onto 
relatively open but sharply compart- 
mented ground leading to Pruem than 
hastily culled German artillery and in- 
fantry reserves had appeared. Overex- 
tended, tired from a long drive across 
France and Belgium, lacking the strength 
to exploit, the 4th had come to a halt. 6 

As in September, the 4th Division's 
plan in February was to pause one day 
in the shadow of the Schnee Eifel while 
patrols probed the West Wall. A delay 
also would afford time for engineers to 
clear and repair roads that were rapidly 
breaking down in an unseasonable thaw. 
In the very early hours of 4 February, 
however, a reinforced platoon of the 8th 
Infantry found the first belt of pillboxes 
unoccupied, the Germans milling about 
on foot and in horse-drawn wagons, 
obviously unprepared for a fight. Just as 
a previous commander had done in 
September, the division commander, 
General Blakeley, ordered immediate 
attack. 

By 0600, 4 February, the 8th Infan- 
try's 1st Battalion was toiling up the 
slopes of the Schnee Eifel in a snow- 
storm and utter darkness to lead the 
attack. An hour later the 2 2d Infantry's 
1st Battalion, a few hundred yards to the 
south, joined the move. The first objec- 
tive of both battalions was a road along 
the crest of the Schnee Eifel, a string 
beaded with pillboxes. Follow-up bat- 
talions of each regiment were to turn 
left and right to strip off the beads. 

6 The action is covered in MacDonald, The Sieg- 
fried Line Campaign. 



THE DRIVE ON PRUEM 



87 




Men of the 4™ Division Eating Inside Captured Pillbox 



As in September, success the first day 
was complete. Dazed, disorganized 
troops of the 326th Volks Grenadier 
Division were nowhere near a match for 
the assaulting force, even with the added 
strength of the pillboxes. The 8th Infan- 
try took 128 prisoners and incurred only 
one casualty. After swinging southwest, 
the 2 2d Infantry reached a fortified 
crossroads at the woods line overlooking 
Brandscheid. Again as in September, 
seizing the crossroads and Brandscheid 
itself awaited the second day. 

Unfortunately for the Americans, the 
similarities between the late summer 



thrust and the winter attack were not to 
end there. As before, the Germans 
would be unable to muster sufficient 
strength to expel the invaders, but they 
could make every yard of advance in- 
creasingly costly. 

On the second day, 5 February, Ger- 
man artillery and mortar fire increased 
considerably. A battalion of the 2 2d In- 
fantry toiled all morning to clear 1 1 
pillboxes in and around the crossroads 
above Brandscheid. Thereupon 2 com- 
panies poised for a final assault out of 
the woods across five hundred yards of 
open ground into the village. With them 



88 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



were 10 medium tanks and 7 tank de- 
stroyers equipped with 90-mm. guns. 

Shortly after midday, tanks and tank 
destroyers opened fire against all visible 
pillboxes along the road into Brand- 
scheid. Heavy machine guns from the 
woods line chattered support. Infantry- 
men burst from the forest cover, shoot- 
ing their rifles and bazookas and tossing 
white phosphorus grenades as they ran. 
Although the Germans returned the fire 
at first, it diminished as the Americans 
closed in. Within three hours, the 2 2d 
Infantry held Brandscheid and a formi- 
dable ring of pillboxes. The cost was 
surprisingly light, a total of 43 casualties, 
of which 3 were fatalities. 

The 8th Infantry for its part con- 
tinued to roll up the fortified line to the 
northeast. As the day wore on, the job 
became increasingly difficult as resist- 
ance stiffened like a coil spring under 
compression. 

A few hundred yards to the north, the 
87th Division began during the night of 
5 February to carry out its mission of 
cutting the road along the northern end 
of the Schnee Eifel to protect the corps 
left flank. Although men of the 87th had 
little trouble gaining the crest of the 
ridge, lateral movement the next day 
northeast and southwest was slowed, 
chiefly by the increased enemy artillery 
fire. The division nevertheless accom- 
plished its limited mission in relatively 
short order. 

The 90th Division thus far had par- 
ticipated in the fighting only with a 
demonstration by fire on 5 February 
against Habscheid to distract German 
attention from the 4th Division's attack; 
a more direct role was in the offing 
before daylight on the 6 th. In perform- 
ing it, the 90th too was destined to run 



into the same pattern of easy early suc- 
cess followed quickly by stiffening resist- 
ance. 

The 90th was to make a two-pronged 
attack. The 359th Infantry was to take 
Habscheid in a frontal assault from a 
starting point just over a mile from the 
town along the main highway from the 
Our River through Habscheid to Prons- 
feld. Thereupon the 357th Infantry was 
to pass through for the attack on Prons- 
feld itself, not quite five miles away. The 
358th Infantry in the meantime was to 
take over at Brandscheid and drive 
southeast to seize high ground along the 
Pruem River between Pronsfeld and 
Pruem. 

At 0400 on 6 February, without artil- 
lery preparation, all three battalions of 
the 359th Infantry jumped off abreast, 
guiding on the main highway into Hab- 
scheid. Despite the general alert occa- 
sioned by the previous day's fighting, 
the regiments took the Germans by sur- 
prise. All but two rifle companies were 
inside Habscheid by daylight. Of about 
eighty Germans captured, some were 
taken asleep at their posts. 

Then the problems began. On the 
approach to Habscheid the highway 
passed through a band of dragon's teeth, 
the road itself blocked by a heavy gate 
of logs anchored in concrete. As day- 
light neared, engineers blew the barrier, 
only to discover that the infantry pass- 
ing in the dark had failed to take out 
enemy machine guns in nearby pillboxes 
that were sited to cover the gate. Alerted 
by the explosion, the Germans came to 
life, drenching the engineers with auto- 
matic weapons fire and calling down 
mortar and Nebelwerfer fire on the spot. 
Along with the engineers, the fires 
pinned down the two reserve rifle com- 



THE DRIVE ON PRUEM 



89 



panies that had yet to reach Habscheid. 
As daylight came, maneuvers to get 
around the enemy proved impossible. 

While the engineers waited, unable 
to sweep the road ahead for mines, in 
and beyond Habscheid the bulk of the 
infantrymen, slowly clearing pillboxes, 
reported they had gone about as far as 
they could without tank support. The 
situation for a moment threatened to 
become a deadlock, but the Germans 
had not the numbers close at hand to 
exploit their temporary advantage. The 
moment passed. When at length a self- 
propelled 155-mm. gun arrived to fire 
directly at the pillboxes covering the 
approach to Habscheid, the defenders 
ran. The engineers at last could start 
sweeping the road. Even so, it was after 
nightfall before they had cleared it and 
tanks could get forward. 

Meanwhile, it was at Brandscheid that 
the first of the enemy's adjustments in 
reaction to the attack became apparent. 
In the village nobody on either side got 
much sleep through the night of 5 
February. 

From the German viewpoint, the 4th 
Division's penetration at Brandscheid 
had virtually collapsed the south flank 
of the 326th Folks Grenadier Division. 
Constantly committed since 16 Decem- 
ber, the division was a skeleton. Its two 
regiments had only about 140 men each. 
Only two 75-mm. guns were in the anti- 
tank battalion; only eight artillery pieces 
in support. The division's north flank 
broken by the surprise penetration of 
the West Wall on the Schnee Eifel, the 
division lacked the men even to seal off 
the thrust at Brandscheid, much less to 
counterattack. The corps commander, 
General Lucht, ordered help from the 



neighboring unit to the south, the 2j6th 
Folks Grenadier Division? 

Before daylight on 6 February, an 
infantry battalion plucked from the vi- 
cinity of Habscheid and the 326th'?, en- 
gineer battalion, a force totaling about 
450 men, counterattacked at Brand- 
scheid. For the Americans, the counter- 
attack could have come at no more 
inopportune time. A few hours earlier, 
around midnight, a battalion of the 90th 
Division's 358th Infantry had moved 
toward Brandscheid to assume control 
from the 2 2d Infantry. It was a memo- 
rably miserable night — cold, black, half- 
raining, half-sleeting. After walking 
almost four miles, the men arrived in 
Brandscheid at 0430, thoroughly soaked. 
The relief of the 2 2d Infantry was in 
process when the Germans struck. 

Hitting from the south, the Germans 
quickly stove in the 2 2d Infantry's line, 
shattered Company K, and penetrated 
into the village. While individual rifle- 
men and the crews of the three tank 
destroyers fought on in the center of the 
village, Company L, the only unit whose 
relief had been completed, counterat- 
tacked. In a little over two hours the 
confused fight came to an end. More than 
150 Germans surrendered. 

Abortive as the Germans thrust 
proved, it caused substantial casualties. 
The relieving battalion of the 358th In- 
fantry lost only 9 men, but the 3d Bat- 
talion, 2 2d Infantry, had 12 men killed, 
98 wounded, and 38 missing; some of the 
missing, who had been cut off in pill- 
boxes outside the village, later rejoined 
their companies. 



7 In addition to German sources previously cited, 
see MS # B-561, 326th Volks Grenadier Division, 
26 January-17 April 1945 (Generalmajor Erwin 
Kaschner, CG). 



90 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



After waiting through the morning to 
make sure Brandscheid was secure, two 
battalions of the 2 2d Infantry resumed 
the attack at noon, moving east from the 
crossroads above Brandscheid to take the 
first row of villages beyond the Schnee 
EifeL Here in September another bat- 
talion of the 4th Division had run into 
trouble after neglecting to take high 
ground while advancing down a valley 
to cross the little Mon Creek. This time 
strength was at hand to do both jobs at 
once, and what was left of the 326th 
Volks Grenadier Division could have 
little effect on the outcome. Except for 
artillery fire, the Germans fought back 
feebly. The same was true on the Schnee 
Eifel where the 8th Infantry continued 
to roll up the pillbox line to the north- 
east and established contact with the 87th 
Division. 

The 4th Division's success on 6 Feb- 
ruary boded well for the future, par- 
ticularly when considered in context 
with an event of early morning on the 
south flank of the corps where, south- 
west of Habscheid, contingents of the 
11th Armored Division had attacked the 
West Wall. 

Scheduled to begin before dawn on 
6 February, the 1 1 th Armored Division 
barely struggled into position on time. 
The thaw and freeze, rain and snow, 
constant since 1 February, had turned 
roads into quagmires in some places and 
in others had glazed them with mud and 
ice. So great was the traffic congestion 
during the march that few of the divi- 
sion's tanks could make it forward, thus 
leaving the first assignment to the ar- 
mored infantry. The enemy fortunately 
had no planes in the air to take advan- 
tage of the long columns of vehicles 



stalled bumper to bumper. Nothing was 
lost but tempers and sleep. 

Even more than the attacks of the 
other divisions of the VIII Corps, that 
of the 11th Armored Division would 
benefit from striking along the enemy's 
interarmy boundary. From a point just 
south of Habscheid, the front was the 
responsibility of the Seventh Army's 
XIII Corps, but the volks grenadier di- 
vision charged with the defense was so 
acutely short of men that a portion of 
the line close to the boundary could be 
defended only by outposts. 

Beginning at 0400, shortly before the 
German counterthrust at Brandscheid, 
two dismounted armored infantry bat- 
talions moved abreast from Heckhu- 
scheid, southwest of Habscheid, toward 
Losenseifen Hill (Hill 568), an eminence 
bristling with pillboxes that had been a 
key objective of an American division 
in September. No artillery preparation 
preceded the move. In the darkness, the 
Germans in the few pillboxes that were 
manned hardly knew what hit them. By 
0830 the armored infantrymen com- 
pletely controlled Losenseifen Hill in a 
penetration a mile and a half deep into 
the West Wall. 

The successes of 6 February meant 
that the VIII Corps had breached the 
West Wall on a front of approximately 
eleven miles, prompting the corps com- 
mander, General Middleton, to acceler- 
ate and broaden the attack. Urging the 
4th and 90th Divisions to increase the 
tempo of their thrusts, he told the 87th 
Division and the 1 ith Armored to dis- 
regard previously assigned objectives and 
"continue on through." 8 The armor 
was to advance beyond the corps to high 



4th Div Jnl, 6 Feb 45. 



THE DRIVE ON PRUEM 



91 



ground some four miles southwest of 
Losenseifen Hill, there to help the 
neighboring III Corps to get across the 
Our River and into its section of the 
West Wall. 

German Countermeasures 

General Middleton's directive actually 
would have little practical effect. On 7 
February the inevitable slowness of clear- 
ing pillboxes, combined with the local 
German countermeasures, provided the 
Germans an additional twenty-four 
hours to ready other steps to oppose the 
attack. Only on the left wing of the 4th 
Division was the defense still soft. There 
two battalions of the 8th Infantry de- 
scended the slopes of the Schnee Eifel 
and advanced almost unopposed as 
much as two miles, crossed the upper 
reaches of the Mon Creek, and reached 
the west bank of the Mehlen Creek. 

On the north the 87th Division spent 
the day clearing pillboxes. The 1 1 th 
Armored Division on the south did the 
same, postponing any major effort to 
execute its new mission until the adja- 
cent regiment of the 90th Division came 
abreast. 

It was in the center that the hard 
fighting took place as the 2 2d, 357th, and 
358th Regiments pushed attacks toward 
Pruem and Pronsfeld. None could gain 
more than a mile, and all had to fight 
off a number of small but determined 
counterattacks launched by conglomer- 
ate units, anything Generals Lucht and 
Felber could find — remnants of division 
engineer battalions, local security forces, 
and the like. In only one case would the 
counterattacks cause genuine concern, 
but they would materially delay the 
advance nonetheless. 



Attacking southeast along the Hab- 
scheid-Pronsfeld road, the 357th Infan- 
try intended to slip one battalion in the 
darkness past Hill 510 to take a second 
height, Hill 511. Another battalion was 
to follow to seize the bypassed hill. 

It failed to work out that way. Con- 
trol proved difficult in the dark, and the 
approach march was slow. Daylight and 
with it enemy fire caught the two bat- 
talions strung out along the highway, 
the point of the leading battalion still 
short of Hill 511. Fire from the first hill, 
thick with pillboxes, split the column. 
The fire isolated most of the leading 
battalion in an open saddle between the 
two hills for the entire day. The other 
battalion finally cleared the pillboxes on 
Hill 510 but was unable to cross open 
ground to come to the support of the 
leading battalion until after dark. Only 
then were the men able to occupy Hill 
511. 

The 358th Infantry meanwhile 
launched a three-pronged attack out of 
Brandscheid. Moving southeast early on 
7 February, the 3d Battalion had little 
trouble taking Hill 521, a wooded height 
on the west bank of the Mon Creek. On 
the other hand, both the 2d Battalion, 
clearing pillboxes between the other two 
units, and the 1st came under consider- 
able fire and counted their successes not 
in yards gained but in pillboxes reduced. 

The 1st Battalion proceeded methodi- 
cally about its task, using tanks and tank 
destroyers as a base of fire to button up 
the pillboxes, and by dark had cleared 
ten and taken about eighty prisoners. 
The 2d Battalion moved much more 
slowly, partly because the men found 
many camouflaged pillboxes not pre- 
viously reported, partly because the Ger- 
mans took cover in the concrete forts 



92 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



during preparatory artillery firing, then 
rushed outside as the shelling stopped 
to oppose the infantry from foxholes and 
trenches. 

At noon, with the 3d Battalion already 
on Hill 521 and the 2d still only a few 
yards out of Brandscheid, the regimental 
commander, Lt. Col. Jacob W. Bealke, 
Jr., ordered the 3d Battalion to send a 
force from Hill 521 westward against 
the flank of the defenders on Hill 519. 
Finding no covered route to the hills, 
the battalion commander asked for a 
delay until tanks could arrive and night 
provide concealment. 

At dusk Colonel Bealke sent a five- 
man patrol to search for the best route 
to the hill, but mortar and small arms 
fire quickly killed three of the men, 
prompting the other two to return. A 
larger patrol from Company I followed 
with orders to take the hill, if possible, 
but shortly after emerging from the 
woods and starting up Hill 519, these 
men also drew fire and scattered. Not 
until daylight the next morning was the 
battalion to try a full-blooded attack. 

Through this same day, the 2 2d In- 
fantry, already in rear of the West Wall, 
was having its problems too, not with 
pillboxes but with counterattacks. The 
2d Battalion o£ the 2 2d took Am Kopf 
(Hill 554) , a piece of dominating 
ground just east of the Mon Creek, 
which had been the farthest point of ad- 
vance in this sector in September. In 
early afternoon the Germans knocked 
the battalion off the hill, but the Ameri- 
cans recaptured it just before dark with 
a reserve company. Another company of 
the 2d Battalion entered Obermehlen, 
just over a half mile to the east, but 
before the end of the day was in "a hell 



of a fight" there with a company of 
Germans supported by three tanks. 9 

A few hundred yards to the southwest 
the 2 2d Infantry's 1st Battalion also got 
across the Mon Creek and onto high 
ground just short of Niedermehlen, but 
persistent counterattacks denied further 
advance. The regimental commander 
sent the 3d Battalion to back up the 2d, 
prepared to counterattack if necessary to 
save the beleaguered company in Ober- 
mehlen. 

The regiment had 62 casualties dur- 
ing the day. Late in the afternoon the 
commander, Col. Charles T. Lanham, 
reported: "We are . . . [now] a very 
serious threat to Pruem. The Germans 
may be building up a very big thing 
against us." 10 

The "big thing" was the 2d Panzer 
Division — which sounded more formi- 
dable than it actually was — plus a shift 
in boundary that would eliminate the 
problem of divided command that had 
plagued the Germans since the day the 
VIII Corps began its attack. Both meas- 
ures were to take effect the next day, 
8 February. 

Impressed by the presence of the 
American Third Army across the Our 
in Luxembourg, higher German com- 
manders had continued to be concerned 
lest an American attack hit the Eifel 
even as the Germans hurried resources 
northward to meet the expected Allied 
main effort on the Cologne plain. Yet 
when the VIII Corps did attack on 4 
February, immediate identification of 
only the 4th Division had led the Ger- 
mans to ascribe "only local significance" 
to the strike. 11 By 6 February, when two 

8 23d Inf Jnl, 1 Feb 45, 
10 Ibid. 

"MS # B-123 (Gersdorff). 



THE DRIVE ON PRUEM 



93 



more infantry divisions and the 1 ith 
Armored had been identified, the danger 
became obvious. 

At this point the army group com- 
mander, Field Marshal Model, shifted 
the Seventh Army boundary northward 
to eliminate the nuisance of responsi- 
bility divided with the Fifth Panzer 
Army. He also permitted unrestricted 
use of the Seventh Army's reserve, the 
2d Panzer Division. 

Given a free hand, the Seventh Army 
commander, General Brandenberger, 
elected to reinforce the threatened sec- 
tor not only with the panzer division but 
also with two Kampfgruppen — all that 
that was left — of the two volks grenadier 
divisions, the 2j6th and 340th. These 
he shifted into the sector of the XIII 
Corps from the adjoining corps to the 
south, even though continued identifi- 
cation of a U.S. armored division in 
Luxembourg indicated that the Third 
U.S. Army soon might launch another 
thrust farther south. 

Brandenberger also directed north- 
ward from the Seventh Army'?, left wing 
a Kampfgruppe of the 35^d Volks 
Grenadier Division. Felber's XIII Corps 
thus would contain Kampfgruppen of 
four volks grenadier divisions, the 3th 
Parachute Division, and the panzer divi- 
sion. The corps would have in addition a 
separate armored battalion equipped 
with Tiger tanks. Counting vehicles of 
this battalion, of the panzer division, 
and of occasional guns in the volks gren- 
adier divisions, the XIII Corps would 
have approximately seventy serviceable 
tanks and assault guns. 

For the Americans, the added Ger- 
man strength was all too apparent on 8 
February. The only notable advance was 
in the north where the 87th Division's 



345th Infantry, moving before daylight, 
seized a village on the upper reaches of 
the Pruem River. On the south flank 
the 359th Infantry cleared bypassed pill- 
boxes in the 90th Division's zone, but 
enough of a gap still existed between 
the 90th Division and the 11th Armored 
Division to discourage the reluctant 
armor again from starting its drive to 
the southeast. 

Hard fighting once more was the or- 
der of the day in the center where the 
arrival of the 2d Panzer Division made a 
clear impact. The 4th Division's 8th In- 
fantry, which had reached the Mon 
Creek the day before against little op- 
position, had to fight all through the 8th 
and into the 9th to clear the village of 
Gondenbrett. On the regiment's right, 
two small counterattacks hit the com- 
pany of the 2 2d Infantry in Obermehlen, 
while another struck Am Kopf Hill, west 
of the village. These delayed the 2 2d 
Infantry's own attack until shortly past 
noon on the 8th. In the afternoon the 
2d and 3d Battalions set out to clear the 
last houses of Obermehlen and open 
slopes to the south, whereupon the 2d 
Battalion tried to cross the Mehlen Creek 
in order to take high ground between the 
creek and the settlement of Tafel, 
whence most of the counterattacks ap- 
peared to be coming. 

Swollen by the thaw to a width of 
fifteen feet in some places, the Mehlen 
Creek proved a major obstacle. A few 
men of the 2d Battalion found fords; 
others stepped into deep water and had 
to swim for it. Except for the weapons 
platoon, which was cut to pieces by ma- 
chine gun fire during the crossing, most 
of Company G nevertheless made the far 
bank. The platoons advanced halfway up 
the high ground against a surprising lack 



94 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



of opposition and there prepared to de- 
fend in expectation of reinforcement 
after dark. The stage was unwittingly 
set for a repetition of a reverse that had 
happened to another company of the 
same division five months earlier only a 
few hundred yards away on the east bank 
of the Mon Creek. 

The men of Company G had no heavy 
weapons — only their Mi's and BAR's. 
These and their radios as well were 
soaked. They had salvaged only one ba- 
zooka, for which they had only one 
rocket, and it misfired. Company F, 
which was to have followed, bogged 
down under enemy fire west of the creek. 

That was the situation when shortly 
before dark Germans of the 2d Panzer 
Division attacked in company strength 
with three to five tanks in support. The 
men of Company G had little alternative 
but to fall back across the creek in a 
sauve qui peut. 

The 8th of February was a costly day 
for the 2 2d Infantry. Losses exceeded a 
hundred. Seventeen were known dead. 

The story was much the same with the 
357th and 358th Regiments of the 90th 
Division. Although the 358th absorbed 
relatively little punishment from enemy 
fire, the regiment still could not solve 
the problem of the open approaches to 
Hill 519. The wind was in the wrong 
direction for using smoke, and artillery 
could not neutralize the enemy in con- 
crete shelters. By the close of the day the 
2d Battalion had cleared a few more 
pillboxes and had maneuvered into posi- 
tion in the woods on Hill 521, ready to 
hit Hill 519 in conjunction with the 3d 
Battalion, but the attack would have to 
await another day. 

The 357th Infantry had no better luck 
at Hill 511 to the southwest. There, in 



early morning, a counterattack by con- 
tingents of the 3 52d Volks Grenadier Di- 
vision hit Company K on the hill. 
Company I, mounted on tanks, hurried 
forward to help. Thus began a daylong 
fight in which the 3d Battalion in par- 
ticular suffered. Driven off Hill 511, the 
battalion recaptured it before the day 
was out but was unable to advance be- 
yond. Fire of all kinds beat in on the men 
from three sides. One supporting tank 
destroyer was knocked out by direct fire; 
two tanks were lost. 

For the next two days, 9 and 10 Feb- 
ruary, hard fighting would continue al- 
most everywhere except on the extreme 
flanks, with the 22d Infantry, the focal 
unit in the drive, coming in for the 
bloodiest fighting. Yet for all the diffi- 
culties imposed, the Germans clearly 
would have to muster considerably more 
strength than that already committed if 
Pruem and the west bank of the Pruem 
River were to be denied much longer. 

Although what happened to the 4th 
Division continued to show striking simi- 
larities to the division's earlier experi- 
ence in this same sector, one noteworthy 
difference between the two engagements 
was apparent. In September, when a 
company had fallen back from the high 
ground just beyond the Mon Creek, the 
4th Division's regiments had been spent, 
all reserves committed. When on 8 Feb- 
ruary Company G, 2 2d Infantry, re- 
treated from beyond the Mehlen Creek, 
both the 8th and 2 2d Regiments still 
were strong, the 8th particularly, and 
the division commander still had a re- 
serve in the uncommitted 12 th Infantry. 

The day of 9 February opened auspi- 
ciously for the 8th Infantry when one 
battalion moved against only sporadic 
resistance into a village on the Pruem 



THE DRIVE ON PRUEM 



95 



River a little over a mile east of Gonden- 
brett. Yet when another battalion at- 
tempted to turn south to take a village 
on the road to Pruem, the opposition 
suddenly stiffened. The explanation was 
to be found in that the regiment had 
shifted its attack from the relatively un- 
defended left flank of the Fifth Panzer 
Army into the Seventh Army's sector and 
the domain of the 2d Panzer Division. 

The immediate task still facing the 
2 2d Infantry on 9 February was to re- 
capture the high ground between the 
Mehlen Creek and Tafel so that the 
village of Niedermehlen in turn might 
be taken and the main road to Pruem 
opened. The regiment's plan was to 
attack with the 1st Battalion across the 
creek, then to converge on Niedermehlen 
from two sides with its other two bat- 
talions. 

Because road conditions precluded 
bringing up bridging equipment, the 4th 
Division's engineers decided to get the 
ist Battalion across the creek on an im- 
provised log bridge. By 0930 the bridge 
was in and two companies began to cross. 
Both these had made it when, within ten 
to fifteen minutes of the first man's cross- 
ing, an enemy machine gun opened fire 
up the creek valley from the south. This 
forced the third company to cover. Dur- 
ing the next five hours, fifteen men fell 
while trying to brave the machine gun 
fire. Every effort to knock out the Ger- 
man gunner failed. 

Companies A and C in the meantime 
made their way up the high ground and 
dug in to defend. Although more numer- 
ous than the three platoons of Company 
G the day before, they were little better 
off. Without tanks and with the only 
supply road — that through Niedermeh- 



len — in enemy hands, they made no 
attempt to push farther. 

At 1300 the enemy again sought a de- 
cision on the high ground. With five 
tanks and two companies of infantry, 
the Germans struck. In an hour Com- 
pany A had shot all its bazooka rockets 
but had two tanks to show for them. Still 
neither the 1st Battalion's reserve com- 
pany nor supporting tanks could get 
across the Mehlen Creek to help. Shells 
from German tanks plowed into the 2d 
Battalion in Obermehlen, disorganizing 
one company there. "Krauts," the 2d 
Battalion reported, "[are] all over the 
place." 12 Yet up on the hill Companies 
A and C with the help of intensive shell- 
ing by the 44th Field Artillery Battalion 
absorbed the shock of the enemy thrust, 
taking severe casualties but giving no 
ground. 

The 3d Battalion meanwhile had cir- 
cled west of Niedermehlen, and even 
before the Germans struck at Companies 
A and C had attempted with the aid of 
a platoon of tanks and another of tank 
destroyers to push into the village. Fire 
from at least three German tanks or 
assault guns halted every attempt. 

An inconclusive fire fight continued 
through the afternoon until Companies 
A and C had defeated the counterattack 
beyond the creek. At that point, behind 
a TOT 13 fired by four battalions of ar- 
tillery, companies of the 2d and 3d 
Battalions pressed into Niedermehlen. 
Resistance collapsed, and within two 
hours the village was clear, a hundred 
Germans captured. The day's fighting 
cost the 2 2d Infantry 121 men, most of 



12 22d Inf Jnl, 9 Feb 45. 

13 TOT stands for time on target, a method of 
timing the fire of artillery pieces in various loca- 
tions to fall on a target simultaneously. 



96 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



them lost on the high ground east of the 
Mehlen Creek. 

Even as these events occurred, the 4th 
Division commander, General Blakeley, 
committed his reserve, the 12th Infantry, 
to take a village off the 2 2d Infantry's 
right flank. The regiment accomplished 
its task with little difficulty and the next 
day, 10 February, reached the west bank 
of the Pruem River southwest of Pruem. 

The Final Phase 

The 2 2d Infantry's task also was near 
completion, though remnants of the 2d 
Panzer Division with their backs to the 
Pruem River still fought hard for at 
least every other yard of ground. On 10 
February the 1st Battalion engaged in a 
bitter house-to-house fight to clear Tafel 
and again had to repel a tank-supported 
counterattack. The 3d Battalion moved 
more easily to occupy high ground di- 
rectly west of Pruem. During the day 
another seventy-three men were killed or 
wounded. Although the 22d Infantry 
was at the threshold of its objective, the 
town of Pruem, the regiment would 
arrive there nearly spent. Reluctant to 
commit individual replacements during 
the battle, the regimental commander 
doubted that his thinned and tired forces 
would have the strength for another 
house-to-house struggle the next day. 14 

On 9 and 10 February the 90th Di- 
vision also advanced, slowly at first, but 
with a dash on the second day as the 
enemy in the north of the division's zone 
fell back behind the Pruem River. When 
the Germans withdrew from Hill 5 1 9 on 
9 February, the 358th Infantry followed, 
then the next day broke free behind the 



last of the West Wall pillboxes to take 
high ground along the west bank of the 
Pruem. The 357th Infantry at the same 
time pushed about a mile south of Hill 
5 1 1 in what was in effect flank protection 
for the 358th Infantry, while the third 
regiment, the 359th, cleared the last of 
the gap between the infantry and the 
armor on Losenseifen Hill. For the most 
part, during these two days the Germans 
were content to sting the attackers with 
mortar and artillery fire. 

Operations at this point entered a new 
phase, dictated by an uncompromising 
tyrant called logistics. Not built for 
heavy military traffic, the roads of Bel- 
gium and Luxembourg had literally dis- 
integrated under a combination of 
alternate freeze and thaw, daily rains and 
floods, and the coming and going of big 
tanks, trucks, and guns. The entire engi- 
neer strength of the VIII Corps was 
barely sufficient to keep the most essen- 
tial supply routes open. In a few days 
the 2 2d Infantry was to report that with 
all roads to the regiment's rear impass- 
able, nothing remained in the forward 
ammunition supply point. Some units of 
the VIII Corps had to be supplied by 
airdrops. 

As early as 8 February, General Mid- 
dleton, as eager as anybody in the Third 
Army to get on with the attack, felt 
impelled to suggest to General Patton 
that he call off the offensive until the 
road situation improved. 15 The next day, 
9 February, Patton agreed that when the 
corps reached the Pruem River, the at- 
tackers might desist and all units dig in 
for defense. 

For the 4th Division this order was 
qualified by instructions to watch for 



14 22d Inf Jnl, 10 Feb 45. 



Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 239. 



THE DRIVE ON PRUEM 



97 




any enemy withdrawal, and if one oc- 
curred to "jump on it." 10 When prison- 
ers on the 10th reported the Germans 
evacuating Pruem, General Blakeley 
took advantage of the qualification to 
continue the attack into the town. De- 
spite its losses, the 22d Infantry fought 
into the fringes on the 1 1 th and the next 
day occupied the rubble that Pruem had 
become. 

It was the condition of the roads that 
stopped the VIII Corps, but even had 
the roads held up the attack would have 
come to a halt on 10 February. The VIII 

M 22d Inf Jnl, 10 Feb 45. 



Corps had run out the period of grace 
granted with the general standfast or- 
ders of 1 February, and a new condition 
thwarted for the moment any subterfuge 
Patton might have attempted to change 
matters. On 10 February General Brad- 
ley ordered Patton to give up head- 
quarters of the III Corps to the First 
Army, which meant that the VIII Corps 
would have to assume responsibility for 
General Millikin's sector. Although Gen- 
eral Middleton would inherit one of the 
two divisions of the III Corps, the new 
responsibility still would involve consid- 
erable adjustment and reorganization. 



98 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



The VIII Corps had achieved sub- 
stantially the objectives set. The corps 
had made a clean penetration of the West 
Wall, and three out of four divisions had 
reached the Pruem River. Pruem itself 
was in hand. General Middleton thus 
would be free to turn his attention to 
the south where other events, under way 
since 6 February, invited participation 
by the VIII Corps. 

For to the south General Patton had 



launched another of the probing attacks 
authorized by the decision of 1 February. 
The objective of the attack was limited — 
Bitburg, the other major road center in 
the western Eifel, eighteen miles south- 
west of Pruem; but Patton had more in 
mind than Bitburg. He was, he hoped, 
kindling a flame that eventually would 
become a full-fledged fire carrying the 
Third Army all the way to the Rhine. 



CHAPTER VI 

Bitburg and the Vianden Bulge 



When Patton's Third Army drew up 
to the German frontier at the end of 
January, the army sector stretched for 
more than a hundred miles from the 
Losheim Gap in the north to the north- 
western corner of the Saar industrial 
region, thence southeastward to a point 
on the Saar River midway between Saar- 
lautern and Saarbruecken. From north 
to south, the Third Army's order of bat- 
tle was the VIII Corps (Middleton) , III 
Corps (Millikin) , XII Corps (Eddy) , 
and XX Corps (Walker) . 

Meandering northeastward from 
Trier, the Moselle River formed a nat- 
ural division within the Third Army's 
zone. North of the Moselle lay the Eifel, 
inhospitable from the standpoint of ter- 
rain but inviting nevertheless because it 
screened the Rhine city of Koblenz and 
several Rhine bridges. South of the 
Moselle, the XX Corps faced the consid- 
erable obstacle of the Saar River plus 
the strongest network of concrete fortifi- 
cations along the entire length of the 
West Wall. Severely restricted in the 
forces that might be committed to an 
offensive, General Patton had chosen the 
Eifel, for all its drawbacks. 

Once the VIII Corps jumped off on 4 
February to take Pruem, Patton intended 
that the XII Corps begin its attack on 
Bitburg the night of 6 February. Appar- 
ently on the assumption that the Ger- 
mans caught in the middle of these two 



drives would withdraw when threatened 
with outflanking on north and south, he 
directed the III Corps in the center, from 
Luetzkampen to Vianden, to participate 
at first only with a series of minor prob- 
ing attacks designed to prevent the Ger- 
mans from shifting strength to north and 
south. 

Like the attack of the VIII Corps on 
Pruem, the maneuver by the XII Corps 
against Bitburg had been tried once be- 
fore — in September, by a single armored 
division, the 5th. At the end of the great 
pursuit across France and Belgium, the 
5th Armored had attempted to take Bit- 
burg by utilizing a semblance of a ter- 
rain corridor extending northeast from 
the village of Wallendorf, about halfway 
between Vianden and Echternach; but 
lacking reserves, the armor eventually 
had fallen back into Luxembourg. 1 

For the February attack General Pat- 
ton approved a strike along a front of 
some seven and a half miles from Wallen- 



dorf southeast to Echternach. (M ap IV) 



Although the same semblance of a ter- 
rain corridor northeast of Wallendorf 
still would be used for the final drive to 
Bitburg, the advance would be attempted 
only after wooded high ground southeast 
of Wallendorf, lying between the Sauer 
and Pruem Rivers at their confluence 



1 MacDonald, The Siegfried Line Campaign. 



100 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



near Echternach, had been taken and the 
corps south flank thus secured. 

Before General Eisenhower's decision 
of 1 February, General Patton had in- 
tended that the Xll Corps attack on 4 
February in order to tie in with the 
Euskirchen offensive. Having protested 
the target date on the basis that Patton 
had no appreciation of "time and space 
factors," the XII Corps commander, Gen- 
eral Eddy, was pleased when Eisen- 
hower's general standfast orders resulted 
in a two-day postponement. 2 Unfortu- 
nately, the postponement virtually coin- 
cided with the unseasonable thaw, and 
the XII Corps would find it difficult to 
be ready even by the night of 6 February. 
By the 2d many motor pools and supply 
depots already were under water, and 
rapidly rising rivers threatened tactical 
bridges. By the 4th the level of the 
Moselle had risen over thirteen feet and 
ripped away floating bridges uniting the 
XII and XX Corps. The river that the 
XII Corps had to cross, the Sauer, was a 
swollen torrent. 

From the German point of view, the 
raging river was about the strongest de- 
terrent to American success that com- 
manders in this sector could count on. 
The remnants of two panzer divisions, 
which the U.S. Third Army G-2, Col. 
Oscar W. Koch, believed still with the 
Seventh Army, already had moved north; 
the only remaining armored reserve, the 
2d Panzer Division, would be used to 
counter the attack on Pruem before the 
XII Corps operation got underway. The 
situation in the Seventh Army's center 
and on its left wing was thus much the 
same as that confronting the XIII Corps 



2 Quotation is from Patton, War As I Knew It, 
P- 234- 



farther north — nothing left but weak 
volks grenadier divisions. The only ex- 
ception was the 212th Volks Grenadier 
Division, located on the extreme left 
wing of the army near the confluence of 
the Sauer with the Moselle, protecting 
the city of Trier. The 212th had fallen 
back to the West Wall ahead of the oth- 
ers and thus had gained time to refit and 
reorganize. 3 

With the northern boundary just over 
a mile southeast of Vianden, the LXXX 
Corps under General Beyer was destined 
to come under attack first. From north to 
south, Beyer's divisions, all volks grena- 
dier units, were the ypth, 3$2d, and the 
relatively strong 212th. Before the new 
American attack began, the 552^ would 
be lost to the effort to protect Pruem. 

Any weakening of the already thin line 
in the south worried the Germans. Rund- 
stedt himself, the Commander in Chief 
West, remained for a long time seriously 
concerned over the possibility of an 
American advance up the general line of 
the Moselle on either side of Trier. 4 Yet 
the Germans there would have the ad- 
vantage of the West Wall, which was 
particularly strong on either side of 
Trier, the early thaw with its rains and 
swollen rivers, and the terrain. The Our 
and Sauer Rivers in the sector faced by 
the XII Corps run through sharp gorges 
with clifflike sides sometimes 600 feet 
high. The four-mile stretch from Bollen- 
dorf to Echternach, where the U.S. XII 
Corps would assault, was further pro- 
tected by large wooded stretches close up 
to the Sauer. 



3 'The German story is based principally on MS 
# B-123 (Gersdorff), as confirmed by German 
situation maps for the period. 

4 MS # C-oao (Maj Percy E. Schramm). 



BITBURG AND THE VIANDEN BULGE 



101 



Crossing the Sauer 

Available to General Eddy for the Bit- 
burg attack were three infantry divisions 
(the veteran 5th and 80th, the inexperi- 
enced 76th) and a veteran armored di- 
vision (the 4th) . To make the main 
effort on the right, Eddy chose the 5 th 
Division (General Irwin) , veteran of 
many a river crossing. Aided by an 
attached regimental combat team (the 
417th) of the 76th Division to protect 
the right flank, the 5th was to cross be- 
tween Bollendorf and Echternach to take 
the first hill mass, not quite a mile be- 
yond the Sauer. The hill would afford 
control of the ground lying in an angle 
formed by confluence of the Sauer and 
the Pruem Rivers downstream from 
Echternach. With one flank secured by 
the Pruem River, the 5th Division then 
could turn north to gain more open 
ground southwest of Bitburg before 
jumping the Pruem and advancing on 
the main objective. The 80th Division 
(General McBride) meanwhile was to 
cross the Sauer from Wallendorf to Bol- 
lendorf and advance as far north as 
Mettendorf, five miles northeast of Wal- 
lendorf, to protect the left flank of the 
main effort. Each of the 8oth's assault 
regiments received an armored infantry 
battalion of the 4th Armored Division as 
reinforcement, and each of the five as- 
sault regiments in the corps drew the 
support of a full engineer battalion. 5 

As engineers and riflemen moved 
down to the Sauer on the night of 6 

5 XII Corps FO 14, 3 Feb 45; 5th Div FO 16 and 
80th Div FO 30, both dated 4 Feb 45. Detailed 
combat interviews supplement official records of 
both the 5th and 80th Divisions. See also Fifth 
Division Historical Section, The Fifth Infantry 
Division in the ETO (Atlanta: Albert Love Enter- 
prises, 1945). 




General Eddy 



February, a fitful rain turned to light 
snow. Seeking surprise, supporting artil- 
lery provided only moderate fire, di- 
rected at known enemy positions. Even 
this light fire produced some German 
response, most of it directed close along 
the water line. 

From the first the main enemy was the 
river itself, swollen to double its normal 
90-foot width, its current a turbulent 
twelve miles an hour. Salvaged from a 
captured Luftwaffe depot, the little in- 
flatable rubber boats in which most of 
the assault companies were to cross would 
fight an unequal battle against the 
churning water. 

When the first boats pushed out into 
the river some capsized almost immedi- 
ately. Others rampaged out of control far 
down the stream or careened crazily back 
against the bank. Yet some survived. 
These had reached midstream when here 
and there lone rifle shots rang out. As if 



102 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Crossing Site on the Sauer River Near Echternach 



the shots were signals, the entire east 
bank of the river appeared to come to 
life. Brilliant flares lighted the scene. 
Even those men who survived the treach- 
erous current could scarcely hope to 
escape the crisscross of fire from auto- 
matic weapons. 

Only eight men — one boatload — of 
each assault regiment of the 5th Division 
reached the far shore. Continuing Ger- 
man fire denied reinforcement. 

It was somewhat better at Echternach, 
where Companies A and B formed the 
assault wave of the 417th Infantry, pro- 



tecting the 5th Division's right flank. Yet 
there too, many of the boats met disaster. 
A round of mortar or artillery fire hit 
one boat broadside, sinking it in a flash 
and sending the occupants with their 
heavy equipment floundering helplessly 
downstream. Another boat began to drift 
directly toward a German machine gun 
spitting fire from the bank. Frantically, 
the men in the boat tried to change their 
course by grabbing at rushes along the 
water's edge, but in the process, they 
swamped the frail craft. Shedding as 
much equipment as they could, the men 



BITBURG AND THE VIANDEN BULGE 



103 



plunged into the icy water. Some made 
it to the bank. The current swept others 
downstream. 

In such a melee, squad, platoon, and 
company organization went for naught. 
Thrown helter-skelter against the Ger- 
man-held bank, the men tried to reor- 
ganize but with little success. A house set 
afire on the Luxembourg side of the river 
lit the landscape with an eerie flame that 
aided German gunners. In the end it 
would be determined that 56 men and 3 
officers of Company A had made it, 52 
men and 2 officers of Company B; but 
no one could have arrived at any figures 
during the early hours. Before daylight 
came, most of Company C also got across, 
but nobody else. Only after nightfall 
brought concealment were crossings re- 
sumed. 

In the 80th Division's sector near Wal- 
lendorf the attack began at 0300 the 
morning of 7 February, two hours later 
than the main assault. With surprise 
hardly possible in view of the general 
alert occasioned by the earlier assaults, 
the men of the 80th smoked likely cross- 
ing sites with shells from attached chemi- 
cal mortars, thereby drawing enemy fire 
to the smoke, then began to cross the 
river elsewhere. The stratagem helped 
considerably and casualties were "not ex- 
ceptionally heavy"; 6 during the first 
twenty-four hours the bulk of at least six 
companies gained the far bank. 

Of the five attacking regiments, the 
two of the 5th Division had the worst of 
it. Although the two little separate eight- 
man groups hardly represented even a 
toehold, the division commander, Gen- 
eral Irwin, determined to treat them as 
such. With no further need to withhold 



8 80th Div AAR, Feb 45. 



artillery support, he directed all available 
artillery battalions to mass their fire be- 
yond the crossing site. 7 Tanks and tank 
destroyers he told to move boldly for- 
ward to take German pillboxes under 
direct observed fire. The corps com- 
mander, General Eddy, personally or- 
dered tank destroyers armed with go-ram. 
pieces to go to the water's edge. He also 
told General Irwin to cross his regiments 
in the 80th Division's or 417th Infantry's 
sectors should those units establish firm 
bridgeheads before the 5th Division 
could get across. 8 Yet as night came on 7 
February, the sixteen still were the only 
men of the 5th Division on the German 
side of the river. 

Contingents of both the 80th Division 
and the 417th Infantry meanwhile 
achieved some success against the high 
ground beyond the river. By nightfall of 
the first day (7 February) , a battalion 
of the 80th Division held high ground 
northeast of Wallendorf, a mile and a 
half beyond the Sauer, and one company 
was in Wallendorf. With a verve and 
initiative often displayed by the inexperi- 
enced, Companies A and B of the 417th 
Infantry cleared pillbox after pillbox 
and occupied a portion of the high 
ground northeast of Echternach. There, 
in later afternoon, three German tanks 
and a small infantry force counter- 
attacked, but Pfc. Lyle Corcoran knocked 
out one tank with a bozooka, another 
mired helpless in the mud, and a third 
withdrew. That ended the threat. 

The big problem still was the river. 
Although all units had plans to put in 
bridges once the first wave of riflemen 



7 Between 0130 and 0600 divisional and corps ar- 
tillery in the XII Corps fired 29,000 rounds. See 
TUSA AAR. 

8 XII Corps msg file, 7 Feb 45. 



104 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



was across, every effort to span the stream 
failed. In the 417th Infantry's sector, the 
160th Engineer Battalion tried three 
times to anchor a cable across the river 
for a footbridge, but the current severed 
the first two and enemy machine gun fire 
sank the boat carrying the third. Despair- 
ing of success by this method, the engi- 
neers constructed a bridge on the near 
bank and tried to float it into position, 
but the current soon made quick work 
of it too. 

Dependence on footbridges was one 
reason the 5th Division's right regiment, 
the 1 ith Infantry, failed to get more than 
eight men across the river. The regi- 
ment's assault plan was based on sending 
only patrols by boat, then constructing 
footbridges for the bulk of the infantry. 
Every effort to put in the bridges failed. 

The coming of night on 7 February 
changed the situation but little. A few 
more men of the 80th Division got across, 
either in assault boats or by swimming 
when the boats capsized, but frustration 
continued generally to be everybody's 
lot. 

Giving up hope of crossing during the 
night and planning a new attempt the 
next day, the 5th Division's 10th Infantry 
sent a boat to rescue its eight men from 
the far bank, while the eight of the 11th 
Infantry held fast. After a heavy machine 
gun section of the 11th Infantry's Com- 
pany K and six boatloads of Company F 
got across, contact was at last established 
with the eight men who still remained on 
the far bank. Still no one could claim 
that the 5th Division possessed any kind 
of workable holding beyond the Sauer. 

Some time in the early hours of the 
8th, three platoons of Company G, 417th 
Infantry, and a heavy machine gun pla- 
toon of Company H conquered the cur- 



rent at Echternach, and before daylight 
another fifteen boatloads of riflemen 
made it. Yet as had happened to their 
predecessors twenty-four hours earlier, 
German fire and the raging river quickly 
cut these men off from reinforcement 
and supply. 

The story would continue the same in 
the XII Corps for three more days, until 
1 1 February when engineers at last suc- 
ceeded in bridging the river. That the 
weak and usually isolated units on the 
far shore could hold their own and even 
expand their positions was a testament to 
the courage and tenacity of the men and 
commanders concerned, plus the excel- 
lent support they got from their artillery; 
but it was a testament, too, to the general 
ineffectiveness of their enemy. Although 
the Germans might defend a position 
doggedly and impose severe casualties on 
the attacker before giving up, a passive 
defense augmented by mortar and Nebel- 
werfer fire was about all they could offer. 
They simply had no reserves for deter- 
mined counterattacks. 

For the Americans it was an incredibly 
difficult operation. The cliffs on the east 
bank were no less precipitous whether a 
man was attacking up them or merely 
trying to manhandle a case of K rations 
to hungry comrades at the top. The mud 
was deep, the weather always wet and 
cold. Trench foot and respiratory dis- 
eases abounded, and evacuation across 
the swollen Sauer was virtually impossi- 
ble. German fire and the river greedily 
consumed assault boats and bridging 
equipment, and bringing up more over 
the ruined roads of Luxembourg was a 
slow process. 

In the end it was sheer power mixed 
with determination and ingenuity that 
did the job. Although the corps lost at 



BITBURG AND THE VIANDEN BULGE 



105 



least a dozen bridges to the river, others 
at last were put in to stay. When two or 
three engineers were unable to bring 
back assault boats, six men did the job, 
limiting the number of infantrymen who 
could be carried but nevertheless gradu- 
ally increasing the strength on the far 
bank. The 5th Division used big search- 
lights to illuminate the night crossings. 
Pontons lashed together served as ferries 
for vital heavy equipment. Moving up 
close to the river, 155-mm. self-propelled 
guns poured direct fire on German pill- 
boxes. One battery alone destroyed eight 
pillboxes in one 24-hour period. To re- 
supply men of the 417th Infantry on 
the heights above Echternach, fighter- 
bombers dropped specially loaded belly 
tanks. When these eluded the infantry- 
men, artillery liaison planes braved small 
arms fire to drop supplies with impro- 
vised parachutes. Whenever weather per- 
mitted, fighter-bombers of the XIX 
Tactical Air Command roamed far and 
wide, ready to strike at a moment's notice 
at any indication that the Germans were 
reinforcing the sector. 

By 1 1 February, when the first tactical 
bridges were in, the 5th Division, includ- 
ing the attached 417th Infantry, had 
forged a bridgehead three miles wide and 
a mile deep; but several hundred yards 
of pillbox-studded terrain still separated 
the bridgehead from the closest regiment 
of the 80th Division. Nor had the two 
assault regiments of the 80th Division yet 
joined their holdings. On the other hand, 
within the two divisions, thirteen infan- 
try battalions were across the river. 

Visiting the sector on 12 February, 
General Patton was so appalled by the 
condition of the roads and yet so con- 
vinced that the crossings were no longer 
in danger that he volunteered permission 



to halt the attack for a day. 9 General 
Eddy declined. The unremitting pres- 
sure of infantry and artillery was having 
a slow but inexorable effect; Eddy saw 
no reason to check the momentum. 

Had General Eddy been able to view 
the situation through his adversary's 
eyes, he would have been even more 
convinced that he had chosen the right 
course. Once the Germans actually oc- 
cupying the sector were rooted from 
their pillboxes, little else would stand in 
the way. Divining that the Echternach 
thrust was the southern arm of a pincers 
movement designed eventually to link 
with the attack of the VIII Corps on 
Pruem, the Germans gambled that no 
move would be made against Trier. They 
shifted the south regiment of the 212th 
Folks Grenadier Division from Trier to 
assist the rest of the division. Although 
Army Group B provided a weak Kampf- 
gruppe of the 560th Volks Grenadier 
Division — all that was left of that unit — 
to replace the 2i2th's southern regiment, 
so critical was the situation around 
Echternach that this Kampfgruppe too 
had to be committed there. Beyond these 
two units, no other reinforcements were 
in prospect. 10 

The only other step the Germans were 
able to take immediately to help Beyer's 
LXXX Corps was to shift the right 
boundary of the corps to the south to a 
point just north of Wallendorf so that 
the adjacent LI II Corps (Rothkirch) 
could bear some of the burden. Thus 
once the 80th U.S. Division was across 
the river and turned north, the opposi- 
tion came from units of the LIII Corps. 
Yet this corps had already been drained 
of resources in efforts to shore up the 

9 Patton, War As 1 Knew It, p. 240. 

10 MS # B-123 (Gersdorff), 



106 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



faltering XIII Corps in the fight to save 
Pruem and could provide little more 
than conglomerate artillery and antitank 
units hastily converted to infantry roles. 11 

The Germans nevertheless continued 
to make a telling fight of it. So long as 
they were able, with the help of the West 
Wall, weather, terrain, and river, to re- 
strict the size of the bridgehead, they 
would at the same time restrict the 
amount of power, including tanks, that 
the Americans might bring to bear. 

Six more days — 12 through 17 Feb- 
ruary — were to pass before the XII Corps 
could carve a full-fledged bridgehead 
from the inhospitable terrain. On the 
morning of the 12th the two assault regi- 
ments of the 80th Division finally linked 
their bridgeheads, and that evening the 
two divisions also joined. After 1 1 Feb- 
ruary, when the 417 th Infantry reverted 
to control of its parent division, units of 
the 76th Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. 
William R. Schmidt) began crossing the 
river to assume defensive positions along 
the Pruem as the 5th Division turned 
north, but this was a slow process simply 
because the 5th's advance was slow. 

On 14 February the 5th Division's 
11th Infantry finally took Ernzen, south- 
ernmost of the villages on the high 
ground between the Sauer and the 
Pruem, but only after artillery lined up 
almost hub-to-hub on the other side of 
the Sauer joined with fighter-bombers to 
level the buildings. En route northward, 
a battalion of the 2d Infantry fought its 
way out of the woods as night came on 
the 16th and entered Schankweiler, 
thereby coming roughly abreast of the 
80th Division, but the village was not 
entirely in hand until the next day. 



Ibid.; XII Corps G-2 Periodic Rpts. 



Although the Germans in most places 
fought with determination, they could 
take credit for only part of the delay. The 
condition of supply roads west of the 
Sauer and continuing problems of get- 
ting men and heavy equipment across 
the swollen river accounted for much of 
it. Without the little M29 cargo carrier 
(Weasel) , a kind of full-tracked jeep, 
vehicular traffic in the mud of the bridge- 
head would have ground to a halt. Nor 
did the 80th Division, in particular, 
launch any large-scale attacks, concen- 
trating instead on mopping up pockets 
of resistance, jockeying for position on 
high ground north and northeast of Wal- 
lendorf, and building up strength in 
supporting weapons and supplies before 
making a major effort to expand and 
break out of the bridgehead. 12 One un- 
usual item of equipment introduced to 
both the 5th and 80th Divisions in the 
bridgehead was the T34 multiple rocket 
launcher, a 60-tube cluster of 4.5-inch 
rocket launchers mounted on a Sherman 
tank. 18 

The Vianden Bulge 

The 80th Division was to begin its new 
advance early on 1 8 February, but at first 
it would be directed less toward capture 
of Bitburg than toward helping elimi- 
nate an enemy hold-out position lying 
between the XII Corps bridgehead and 
the penetration of the VIII Corps at 
Pruem. While the VIII Corps drove 
south and southeast, the 80th Division 

12 80th Div AAR, Feb 45. 

w For an evaluation of these weapons, see Con- 
stance McLaughlin Green, Harry C. Thomson, and 
Peter C. Roots, The Ordnance Department: Plan- 
ning Munitions for War, UNITED STATES ARMY 
IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1955), pp. 
329-3 - 



BITBURG AND THE VIANDEN BULGE 



107 



was to move north and northeast, the 
two to join at the village o£ Mauel, on 
the Pruem River equidistant from 
Pruem and Bitburg. 

The enemy's hold-out position quickly 
came to be known on the American side 
as the Vianden bulge, after a town on the 
Our. The bulge was some twenty-two 
miles wide from north to south, from the 
90th Division's forward lines near Hab- 
scheid to the 80th Division's positions 
north of Wallendorf. It was eleven to 
thirteen miles deep, from the German 
frontier along the Our to the Pruem. It 
encompassed some of the most rugged 
terrain in the entire Eifel. A steep, 
heavily wooded bluff capped by lime- 
stone ledges marks the east bank of the 
Our. Behind the bluff and the pillboxes 
of the West Wall, the land alternately 
rises and plunges in a series of high, 
irregular ridges and deep ravines dotted 
with thick stands of fir trees and laced 
with twisting secondary roads. 

German commanders responsible for 
the Vianden bulge wanted to withdraw, 
to exchange the extended, meandering 
periphery of the bulge for a considerably 
shorter line behind the Pruem River. 
Since they lacked the strength to counter- 
attack the American penetrations to 
north and south, the bulge had little 
tactical significance. Nor did the Ger- 
mans have enough resources even to hold 
the bulge for any appreciable time. 

Once the boundary of the LIII Corps 
was shifted southward to give Roth- 
kirch's troops some of the burden of the 
bridgehead battle with the XII U.S. 
Corps, responsibility for the Vianden 
bulge was split almost in half. Reduced 
to two weak volks grenadier divisions 
and a few conglomerate units, the LIII 
Corps held the southern half; General 



Felber's XIII Corps, severely straitened 
by the Pruem fighting, the northern half. 

For all the desire of the corps com- 
manders to withdraw, "Hitler, like a 
small child, refused to part with even a 
small portion of his toy, the West 
Wall." 14 When General Felber broached 
the subject of withdrawal to the Seventh 
Army commander, General Branden- 
berger, the army commander had to re- 
fuse even though he personally favored 
it. 15 Brandenberger himself had recom- 
mended the same thing to Army Group 
B, but Field Marshal Model, severely 
piqued because Brandenberger had 
failed to repulse the American drives, 
was in no mood to agree even had Hit- 
ler's standfast orders not blocked the 
way. Model already was contemplating 
relief of the Seventh Army commander. 

Strained relations between the army 
and the army group commander came to 
a head only two days after the Americans 
opened their drive to eliminate the 
bulge. At a meeting at the Seventh 
Army's forward headquarters on 20 Feb- 
ruary, Model castigated Brandenberger 
before his staff and relieved him. He 
immediately elevated General Felber, 
who was present, to command of the 
Seventh Army. 

If the disgrace of relief hurt Branden- 
berger's pride, it also may have saved his 
life. Hardly had he left when an Ameri- 
can bomb landed on the headquarters 
building, killing or severely wounding 
several staff officers. The chief of staff, 
stripped of his clothing by the blast, in- 
curred only a superficial head wound; 
the new commander, General Felber, 
who had just left the building for a fare- 



MS # B-123 (Gersdorff). 
MS # B-494 (Felber). 



108 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



well tour of his XIII Corps, also incurred 
a slight wound. 16 

Upon Felber's advancement, General- 
leutnant Graf Ralph von Oriola assumed 
command of the XIII Corps. After study- 
ing the situation in his sector, Oriola 
made the same recommendation to Fel- 
ber that Felber had made to Branden- 
berger — withdraw behind the Pruem. 
The new Seventh Army commander 
found himself in the uncomfortable po- 
sition of having to refuse the very request 
he himself had made a few days before. 17 

Forced to deny a maneuver that he 
actually endorsed, Felber devised a sim- 
ple plan that assured him at least a 
measure of operational control of his 
army. Working through his chief of staff, 
General Gersdorff, he told his subordi- 
nate commanders they would in the fu- 
ture receive two versions of all orders. 
One would direct continued defense and 
was to be filed in official records. The 
other would give the order Felber ac- 
tually intended; it was to be destroyed 
after receipt. To justify withdrawals, op- 
erational reports to higher headquarters 
were to be falsified, all withdrawals of- 
ficially to be made because of overwhelm- 
ing American strength. 18 

On the American side, neither the 
bogging down of the VIII Corps attack 
because of crumbling supply roads nor 
General Bradley's order of 10 February 
removing headquarters of the III Corps 
from the Third Army was to be allowed 
to thwart Patton's offensive. Although 
one division was to depart with the head- 
quarters, the 6 th Armored Division and 



16 Interview, Maj Fred Meyer with Gersdorff, 
28 Jul 53; MS # B-123 (Gersdorff). 

"MS # B-053, XIII Corps, 18 February-21 
March 1 945 (Oriola). 

"Interview, Meyer with Gersdorff, 26 Jul 53. 



the 6 th Cavalry Group were to remain 
to be taken over by the VIII Corps. With 
two armored and three infantry divisions 
and a cavalry group, the VIII Corps 
would be strong enough to help elimi- 
nate the Vianden bulge, despite an 
elongated front. Time and almost super- 
human engineer efforts eventually would 
correct the supply situation. The attack 
was to begin on 1 8 February at the same 
time the 80th Division of the XII Corps 
moved northeastward from Wallendorf. 

The VIII Corps commander, General 
Middleton, planned to use only three of 
his divisions, plus the cavalry group. 
Shifting the 90th Division and the 11th 
Armored westward to enable greater con- 
centration within the 6th Armored Di- 
vision's sector along the Our, he directed 
the 90th to drive southeastward from 
Habscheid. The division was to gain the 
Pruem River from Pronsfeld all the way 
to the appointed contact point with the 
XII Corps at Mauel. Using only one 
combat command at first, the 1 1 th 
Armored was to thrust due south to clear 
a pie-shaped sector between the 6 th 
Armored and 90th Divisions, featured by 
high ground overlooking the village of 
Irrhausen on a relatively major east-west 
road. Two days after the first attacks, the 
6th Armored Division was to strike 
southeastward from a small bridgehead 
already established across the Our north 
of the village of Dahnen, west of Irrhau- 
sen. The 6th Cavalry Group (Col. Ed- 
ward M. Fickett) meanwhile was to cross 
the Our on the right flank of the 6th 
Armored and clear the southwestern 
corner of the bulge. Both armored di- 
visions were to be pinched out as the 
attacks of the cavalry and the 90th Di- 
vision converged along the south bound- 
ary of the corps. 



BITBURG AND THE VIANDEN BULGE 



109 



Moving before daylight on 18 Feb- 
ruary without artillery preparation, both 
the 90th Division and the 11th Armored 
caught the Germans unprepared. 

The more dramatic success was in the 
center, where the goth Division's 359th 
Infantry struck through a thick belt of 
West Wall pillboxes toward Kesfeld, 
southwest of Losenseifen Hill, the domi- 
nating eminence taken during the Pruem 
offensive by contingents of the 1 1 th 
Armored Division. Bypassing pillboxes 
in the darkness, Company I quickly 
moved into Kesfeld. It took only a short 
fire fight to secure the village. Mean- 
while, the 2d Batalion and the rest of 
the 3d cleared forty-eight pillboxes on 
the approaches to Kesfeld. The regi- 
mental commanders and staffs of two 
regiments of the i6yth Folks Grenadier 
Division and two battalion commanders 
and their staffs were captured in their 
bunks. Almost all of two companies also 
were captured, and by the end of the day 
more than 400 Germans were headed for 
prisoner-of-war cages. 19 

Carrying the burden of the attack for 
the nth Armored Division, the reserve 
combat command had to fight harder but 
in the end gained more ground than did 
the 359th Infantry. In CCR's sector just 
west of Kesfeld, no penetration of the 
West Wall had yet been made; the attack 
thus involved passing through concrete 
dragon's teeth as well as pillboxes. Cov- 
ered by fire from tanks, armored engi- 
neers soon blasted a path through the 
antitank obstacle, and tanks and armored 
infantrymen poured through. The ad- 
vance benefited considerably from the 
fact that only hours before the attack a 
regiment of the 276th Folks Grenadier 



16 90th Div AAR, Feb 45. 



Division had relieved contingents of the 
340th Folks Grenadier Division, and the 
newcomers were unfamiliar with the po- 
sitions. By nightfall, some seventy-five 
prisoners were in hand and the 55th 
Armored Infantry Battalion held Leiden- 
born, more than one-fourth the distance 
to the final objective overlooking Irrhau- 
sen. The armor spent much of the next 
day consolidating its penetration. 

The going meanwhile had been less 
encouraging southeast of Habscheid 
where the 358th Infantry almost a fort- 
night earlier had learned respect for the 
kind of opposition the Germans could 
muster in the pillboxes and on the steep 
hills along the Habscheid-Pronsfeld high- 
way. Neither the 2d Battalion astriat the 
highway nor the 3d Battalion west of the 
road gained more than a thousand yards 
in the face of intense machine gun and 
artillery fire. 

Somewhat inexplicably, the bottom 
dropped out of the enemy's defense along 
that road early on the second day, 19 
February. Hardly an hour of attack had 
passed when the battalion west of the 
road took its objective, the village of 
Masthorn. An hour later the battalion 
astride the highway took the last domi- 
nating hill short of the Pruem River. 
Neither battalion incurred a single cas- 
ualty. 

For all practical purposes, the 358th 
Infantry had reached the Pruem and 
might begin to pull out the bulk of its 
forces to participate in a wheeling ma- 
neuver that the division commander, 
General Rooks, set in motion during the 
afternoon of the 19th. When the 359th 
Infantry had advanced a mile and a half 
southeast of Kesfeld, then turned due 
east toward the Pruem, General Rooks 
sent his reserve regiment, the 357th In- 



110 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Welcome to Germany From the 6th Armored Division 



fantry, swinging southeast around the 
35gth's right flank. Later he would com- 
mit the 358th Infantry around the right 
flank of the 357th to make a broader, 
final swing southeast to the Pruem at 
Mauel. 

As this maneuver got underway on 20 
February, the 6th Armored Division near 
Dahnen began to break out of its little 
bridgehead across the Our. Established 
originally by CCB as a diversion for the 
attack of the XII Corps on 6 February, 
the bridgehead was about two miles wide 
but less than a mile deep. It nevertheless 
provided a basis for penetrating the West 



Wall without having to attack the pill- 
boxes frontally across the swollen Our 
and up the east bank escarpment. 20 

CCB made the first assault to break out 
of the bridgehead, while CCA, west of 
the Our and farther south opposite Das- 
burg, staged a mock crossing of the river. 
Beginning at 0645, artillery laid an in- 



20 The 6th Armored Division, under the super- 
vision of its commander, General Grow, published 
an unusual history. Providing a day-by-day factual 
account of all units, without embellishment, it is 
an excellent source. See Combat Record of the 
Sixth Armored Division (Germany, 1945). Action 
in the 20 February attack also is covered by ex- 
tensive combat interviews. 



BITBURG AND THE VIANDEN BULGE 



111 



tensive preparation across CCB's entire 
front for twenty minutes, then lifted for 
ten minutes in hope that the Germans 
would move from their pillboxes into 
field fortifications outside. Then for one 
minute all the artillery switched to a 
mammoth TOT on the first specific ob- 
jective, a fortified hill a mile and a half 
due north of Dahnen. 

Close behind the artillery, dismounted 
armored infantrymen organized into 
special pillbox assault teams half a pla- 
toon strong started up the hill, while 
others organized as support fire teams 
took the embrasures of the pillboxes un- 
der small arms fire. As an assault team 
neared a pillbox, a prearranged signal — 
usually a colored smoke grenade — lifted 
the support team's fire. Equipped with 
wire cutters, rocket launchers, and demo- 
lition charges, the infantrymen closed in. 
By 0835 the first pillbox had fallen, and 
by noon seventeen pillboxes and the 
crest of the hill were clear. So effective 
was the method of attack that only one 
man was lost during the day to small 
arms fire. Of a total of 5 killed and 66 
wounded during 20 February, almost all 
were lost to mines. 

Before daylight the next day, 21 Feb- 
ruary, CCB struck again. While one 
force expanded the bridgehead south to 
take Dahnen, another drove southeast to 
take the village of Daleiden and thereby 
cut the major Dasburg-Irrhausen high- 
way. In midmorning at Dahnen, a rifle 
platoon of the 9 th Armored Infantry 
Battalion mounted a platoon of medium 
tanks and raced south, bypassing pill- 
boxes, to invest Dasburg and clear a 
crossing site over the Our for CCA. In a 
matter of minutes, the tank-mounted in- 
fantry gained the village while two in- 
fantry companies started south from 



Dahnen as reinforcement, clearing pill- 
boxes as they marched. By nightfall Das- 
burg and the pillboxes standing sentinel 
over the Our west of the village were 
secure, but fire from German positions 
south of Dasburg continued to deny CCA 
passage over the river. 

During these two days, the 90th Di- 
vision continued to push steadily east 
and southeast toward the Pruem River. 
While the 359th Infantry on 2 1 February 
approached the last two villages short of 
the river, the 357th Infantry in its wheel- 
ing maneuver overcame stanch resistance 
on open slopes of towering high ground 
around a crossroads settlement two miles 
from the Pruem. An opportune strike by 
fighter-bombers of the XIX Tactical Air 
Command provided an assist. In mid- 
afternoon, with the situation apparently 
opening up, General Rooks committed 
the 358th Infantry on its wider wheeling 
maneuver designed to reach the Pruem 
at the contact point with the XII Corps 
at Mauel. 

If any doubt remained that the enemy 
defense was cracking, it rapidly dissipated 
early the next morning, 22 February, 
fifth day of the offensive. The 11th 
Armored Division, for example, hereto- 
fore primarily concerned with consoli- 
dating its penetration of the West Wall, 
dashed suddenly southward three miles 
and occupied its final objective, the high 
ground overlooking Irrhausen. A bat- 
talion of the 358th Infantry on the outer 
rim of the 90th Division's wheel raced 
southeast four miles to take a village only 
three and a half miles from Mauel. One 
squad of Company A alone took some 
100 prisoners, most of them artillerymen 
frantically trying to hitch their horses to 
their pieces and escape. Breakthrough 
everywhere, with the exception of the 



112 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



southwestern comer of the bulge where 
the light formation of the 6th Cavalry 
Group still found the going sticky. 

Reports of continued rapid advances 
were coming in the next day, 23 Feb- 
ruary, when the corps commander, Gen- 
eral Middleton, sat down to lunch at his 
command post in Luxembourg with the 
commander of the 6th Armored Division, 
General Grow. "How long will it take- 
you," Middleton asked Grow, "to get a 
task force on the road to drive across 
the front of the 6th Cavalry Group and 
contact XII Corps?" 21 By 1630 a strong 
force composed of a company each of 
light and medium tanks, a cavalry troop, 
an infantry company, a platoon of tank 
destroyers, and two squads of engineers 
was on the way. The commander was 
Lt. Col. Harold C. Davall. 

Expanding the XII Corps Bridgehead 

The troops that Davall's task force set 
out to contact had found the opposition 
stiffer than that facing the VIII Corps 
but nevertheless had made steady prog- 
ress. With less ground to cover to reach 
the intercorps boundary, they would be 
on hand at the boundary when Davall 
arrived. These were men of the 80th 
Division, who on 18 February only a few 
hours after the VIII Corps jumped off 
had begun their assignment to help clear 
the Vianden bulge. At the same time they 
Were expanding the XII Corps bridge- 
head and preparing the way for a final 
drive on Bitburg. 

Early on 18 February, the 80th Di- 
vision commander, General McBride, 
sent two regiments north from the vicin- 



ity of Wallendorf toward Mettendorf 
and Hill 408, the latter the most com- 
manding ground in the second and third 
tier of hills beyond the German frontier. 
While protecting the left flank of the 5th 
Division in the corps main effort, the 
thrust also would uncover the West Wall 
pillboxes along the Our River. 22 

The 80th Division's two regiments 
took three days to reach Hill 408, but 
before daylight on 21 February a bat- 
talion of the 318th Infantry slipped 
through the darkness to occupy the 
height after firing only a few shots. In 
the meantime, a battalion of the 317th 
Infantry took the enemy by surprise at 
Enzen, on the little Enz River southeast 
of Hill 408, seized a bridge intact, and 
gained a leg on the next fold of high 
ground lying between the Enz and the 
Pruem. 

The 319th Infantry meanwhile ma- 
neuvered against the pillboxes along the 
Our. Advancing along the west bank of 
the Gay Creek, the first stream line be- 
hind the river and the pillboxes, one 
battalion during the night of 18 Feb- 
ruary occupied high ground near Nie- 
dersgegen, nestled at the bottom of the 
creek valley, and soon after daylight took 
the village itself. The next day, 20 Feb- 
ruary, the same battalion turned west to 
the Our, cutting off the Germans in a 
two and a half mile stretch of the West 
Wall. 

The job of mopping up the pillboxes 
fell to the 53d Armored Infantry Bat- 
talion, attached from the 4th Armored 
Division. The weather helped. With the 
ground free of snow and more than a 
hint of spring in the air, it was no time 



21 Interview, Meyer with Grow, 6 Aug 53. 



80th Div FO 31, 14 Feb 45. 



BITBURG AND THE VIANDEN BULGE 



113 



to die. By nightfall of the 21st, when the 
mop-up was complete, 337 Germans had 
emerged from the West Wall bunkers, 
hands high in surrender. 

With the West Wall eliminated and 
Hill 408 taken, time for exploitation ap- 
peared at hand. As a first step in commit- 
ment of the 4th Armored Division, the 
corps commander, General Eddy, at- 
tached Combat Command B to the 80th 
Division. On 23 February the armor 
drove northeast to take Sinspelt and its 
bridge over the Enz River on a main 
highway nine miles due west of Bitburg. 
It was no easy assignment, for in a last- 
ditch effort to prevent breakout, the 
Germans rushed the remnants of the 2d 
Panzer Division down from Pruem. 23 
Nevertheless, as night fell Sinspelt and a 
serviceable bridge over the Enz were 
secure. 

Also taken was the settlement of 
Obergeckler, along the corps boundary 
just over a mile west and slightly north 
of Sinspelt. There a battalion of the 
3 1 9th Infantry kept pace with the armor 
and as night came was in position to wel- 
come Colonel Davall's task force from 
the 6th Armored Division, approaching 
from the north. 

Task Force Davall had begun to move 
at 1630 from the village of Jucken, on a 
secondary road six miles northwest of 
Obergeckler. Brushing aside a show of 
resistance at a crossroads not quite two 
miles from the starting point, the task 
force continued southward through the 
night, gathering in surprised Germans 
along the way. At 0740 the next morning, 
24 February, Task Force Davall made 



contact with contingents of the 80th Di- 
vision just north of Obergeckler. 

Before the day was out, the 90th Di- 
vision too had swept to the corps bound- 
ary. At a cost of some 600 casualties, of 
which approximately 125 were killed, 
three divisions and a cavalry group had 
pierced the West Wall in the rough ter- 
rain of the Eifel and established a solid 
front along the Pruem River. In the 
process, they took more than 3,000 
prisoners. 24 

To Bitburg and the Kyll 

The Vianden bulge cleared, the XII 
Corps on 24 February was free to turn 
full attention to seizing Bitburg. Having 
assumed command of the corps tempo- 
rarily when on 22 February General 
Eddy left for a brief rest, the 4th 
Armored Division commander, General 
Gaffey, ordered CCB released from con- 
trol of the 80th Division and directed the 
entire armored division to strike north- 
eastward. The armor was to jump the 
Pruem and Nims Rivers, cut major roads 
leading north out of Bitburg, and build 
up along the Kyll River two miles be- 
yond the town. The 5th Infantry Di- 
vision was to take the town and reach the 
Kyll to the east and southeast. 

In the days since 18 February, while 
the 80th Division had been expanding 
the XII Corps bridgehead to north and 
northeast, the 5th Division had cleared 
the west bank of the Pruem to a point 
only six miles southwest of Bitburg. At 
the same time, the division had re- 
grouped and turned over much of its 
Pruem River line in the south to the 



23 MS # B-123 (Gersdorff). 



Div and cavalry group AAR's, Feb 45. 



114 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



76th Division. 25 Once the 5th had crossed 
the Pruem, contingents of the 76th also 
were to cross and drive southeast to pro- 
tect the 5th's right flank. 

From the first it was apparent that 
crossing the Pruem River would be con- 
siderably easier than crossing the Sauer. 
There was nothing to equal the clifflike 
terrain along the Sauer, and the worst of 
the flood waters resulting from the early 
thaw had passed. Yet hardly anyone 
could have anticipated how "unquestion- 
ably easy" the crossing would be. 26 Start- 
ing at 2300 the night of the 24th, a 
battalion of the 2d Infantry crossed the 
river within an hour and took high 
ground just north of the village of 
Wettlingen. An hour later a battalion of 
the 10th Infantry crossed a few miles to 
the south on the heels of a patrol that 
found a serviceable vehicular ford. Only 
scattered mortar and small arms fire op- 
posed either crossing. 

As the infantrymen fanned out to the 
north and northeast, the story was much 
the same everywhere. "Germans came 
forward bearing white flags and sickly 
smiles." 27 By nightfall of 26 February, 
one battalion of the 2d Infantry stood on 
the Nims River less than a mile from the 
western edge of Bitburg. Another bat- 

25 On 27 February, as Pfc. Herman C. Wallace 
o£ the 76th Division's 301st Engineer Combat Bat- 
talion was helping clear mines from a road near 
the river, he stepped on an S-mine, an antiperson- 
nel device that when activated normally leaps 
upward to explode in the air. Hearing the sound 
indicating that his step had activated the mine, 
Private Wallace spared those around him by hold- 
ing his foot on the mine and placing his other 
firmly beside it. This confined the explosion to the 
ground but inevitably killed him in the process. 
He was awarded the Medal o£ Honor posthu- 
mously. 

™The Fifth Infantry Division in the ETO, 
"Across the Sauer Into the Siegfried Line." 
"Ibid. 



talion of the 2d and two of the 10th 
Infantry were across the stream farther 
south and had cut the Echternach- 
Bitburg highway. The 2d Battalion, 2d 
Infantry, took a bridge over the Nims 
intact, and one of the 10th Infantry's 
battalions crossed over the ruins of a 
demolished bridge. A regiment of the 
76th Division meanwhile crossed the 
Pruem through the 10th Infantry's 
bridgehead and also jumped the Nims. 

The fate of Bitburg was sealed even 
had there been no 4th Armored Division 
racing northeastward along the left flank 
of the infantry. As early as the evening 
of 25 February, a day before the infantry 
crossed the Nims, a task force of the 4th 
Armored had a bridgehead over the sec- 
ond river a mile and a half northwest of 
Bitburg. With planes of the XIX Tac- 
tical Air Command almost constantly 
overhead, the bulk of two combat com- 
mands got across the Nims on 26 Feb- 
ruary and spread out to northeast and 
east. Part of the 80th Division's infantry 
followed in the wake of the armor to 
bring in the prisoners, while one regi- 
ment moved north and established con- 
tact with the VIII Corps at Mauel. 

On the German side, the new Seventh 
Army commander, General Felber, ap- 
pealed to his superiors time after time 
for help, but to little avail. In the end, 
Army Group B managed to detach a de- 
pleted infantry division, the 246th, from 
the Fifth Panzer Army to the north, but 
the division began to move toward Bit- 
burg only on 27 February. That was far 
too late. 28 

As early as 26 February fighter-bomber 
pilots reported the Germans evacuating 



28 MS # B-831, Seventh Army, so February-26 
March 1945 (Felber). 



BITBURG AND THE VIANDEN BULGE 



115 



Bitburg. Well they might, for by night- 
fall of the 26th a task force of the 4th 
Armored Division had reached the west 
bank of the Kyll two miles northeast of 
the town, and by nightfall of the 27 th a 
battalion of the 5th Division's 11th In- 
fantry occupied a village a mile southeast 
of the town while another battalion 
poised in the southern fringe of Bitburg 
itself. Before midday on 28 February the 
11th Infantry delivered the coup de 
grace to a town already severely battered 
by American planes and artillery. 

Beginning on 4 February with the 
start of the VIII Corps offensive aimed 
at Pruem, two corps of the Third Army 
in just over three weeks had penetrated 
the West Wall in some of the most for- 
bidding terrain to be found along the 
Western Front. At its widest point, the 
penetration measured more than twenty- 
five miles. The VIII Corps at the end of 
February stood on the Pruem while the 
XII Corps bulged eastward to the Kyll. 
Although the Rhine still lay some fifty 
miles away and terrain still might con- 
stitute a major obstacle, the enemy's 



prepared defenses lay behind, and only 
a miracle could enable the Germans to 
man another solid front in the Eifel. 

The Third Army commander, General 
Patton, meanwhile had been turning his 
attention to one more detail that had to 
be attended to before he could make a 
final thrust to the Rhine. Striding into 
the 76th Division's command post early 
on 26 February, Patton placed a fist on 
the operations map at the ancient Roman 
city of Trier on the Moselle. 29 

Almost unnoticed in the bigger pic- 
ture of the Western Front, an infantry 
division and an armored division of the 
Third Army's XX Corps had been nib- 
bling away at the German position south 
of Trier that had become known as the 
Saar-Moselle triangle. The XX Corps 
from the south and the 76th Division 
from the north, Patton directed, were to 
envelop Trier. 



28 1st Lt. Joseph J. Hutnik and Tech. 4 Leonard 
Kobrick, eds., We Ripened Fast — The Unofficial 
History of the Seventy-Sixth Infantry Division 
(Germany, n.d.), p. 102. 



CHAPTER VII 

The Saar-Moselle Triangle 



During September 1944, the great 
pursuit across France and Belgium had 
ended in the north along the German 
frontier and the West Wall, in the south 
generally along the line of the Moselle 
River. In the bitter fighting that followed 
through the autumn and early winter, 
the Third Army in the south had 
breached the Moselle line around Metz, 
pushed northeast across the German 
border, and broken the outer crust of 
the West Wall along the Saar River at 
Saarlautern, thirty-two miles south of 
Trier. Although a combination of Third 
and Seventh Army attacks compromised 
the Moselle line along most of its length, 
the Germans had continued to hold the 
east bank in a triangle formed by con- 
fluence of the Saar and the Moselle south- 
west of Trier. The Third Army had yet 
to clear the triangle when the call had 
come in December to move into the Ar- 
dennes. 

To American troops the uncleared sec- 
tor was the "Saar-Moselle triangle." 
From an apex at the meeting of the Saar 
and the Moselle in the north to a base 
along an east-west line roughly cotermi- 
nous with the southern border of Luxem- 
bourg, the triangle measured some 
sixteen and a half miles. The base ex- 
tended not quite thirteen miles. Al- 
though the West Wall in this sector lay 
behind the Saar, the Germans in 1939 
and 1940 had constructed a supple- 



mentary fortified line across the base of 
the triangle from Nennig in the west to 
Orscholz, at a great northwestward loop 
of the Saar. The Germans called the posi- 
tion the Orscholz Switch; the Americans 
knew it as the Siegfried Switch. Assum- 
ing the neutrality of Luxembourg, the 
switch position was designed to protect 
Trier and the Moselle corridor and to 
prevent outflanking of the strongest por- 
tion of the West Wall, that lying to the 
southeast across the face of the Saar in- 
dustrial area. 

The Orscholz Switch was similar to the 
West Wall itself, a defensive position two 
miles deep, fronted by dragon's teeth or 
antitank ditches and composed of pill- 
boxes and concrete bunkers reinforced 
by field fortifications. It sat astride high 
ground forming a watershed for streams 
flowing generally northeast to the Saar 
and west and southwest to the Moselle. 
The terrain is rolling and sharply com- 
partmented, in many places covered with 
dense woods. The major roads converge 
on the town of Saarburg, halfway up the 
east side of the triangle on the west bank 
of the Saar River. 

In November and December, while 
striking toward the Saar at Saarlautern, 
General Walker's XX Corps on the left 
wing of the Third Army had been able 
to turn only a scant force against the 
Orscholz Switch and the triangle. In 
late November an armored combat com- 



THE SAAR-MOSELLE TRIANGLE 



117 



mand and an infantry regiment had engi- 
neered a minor penetration of the left 
portion of the switch at the villages of 
Tettingen and Butzdorf; but the XX 
Corps had had to relinquish the ground 
in December in the general belt-tighten- 
ing process to free units for the Ar- 
dennes. 1 When in early January a rela- 
tively inexperienced infantry division, 
the 94th under Maj. Gen. Harry J. Ma- 
lony, arrived in this sector, the forward 
positions were south of the Orscholz 
line. 

As the 94th Division moved into posi- 
tion on 7 January, the levies imposed by 
the Ardennes fighting had so severely 
reduced General Walker's XX Corps that 
all sectors were thinly manned. Beyond 
the corps left boundary at the Moselle, a 
cavalry group of the neighboring XII 
Corps held the west bank of the Moselle. 
The 94th Division faced the entire 13- 
mile stretch of the Orscholz Switch, from 
Moselle to Saar. The 3d Cavalry Group 
defended the XX Corps center, approxi- 
mately nine miles along the Saar River 
to the confluence of the Saar and the 
Nied. The 95th Infantry Division held 
the remainder of the corps front, roughly 
equal to the distance covered by the 
cavalry but involving an added responsi- 
bility of defending a bridgehead over the 
Saar at Saarlautern. (The 95th subse- 
quently was replaced by the 26th Di- 
vision.) 

Before arriving in the Saar-Moselle 
triangle, the 94th Division had fought 
to contain Germans corralled in the 
Breton ports of Lorient and St. Nazaire. 
In part to provide the division offensive 
combat experience, in part to contain the 
Germans in the Orscholz Switch and 



possibly to draw reserves from other sec- 
tors, and in part to gain a foothold in .he 
line for later exploitation, the corps 
commander, General Walker, told Gen- 
eral Malony on 12 January to begin a 
series of stabs into the line in strengths 
not to exceed one reinforced battalion. 2 

Probing the Orscholz Switch 

As had other units in November, the 
94th Division made its first thrusts into 
the left portion of the Orscholz Switch in 
an attack designed to hit a sensitive point 
that might evoke German counterattack, 
which the Americans might crush with 
heavy German losses. At dawn on 14 
January, the 1st Battalion, 376th Infan- 
try, commanded by Lt. Col. Russell M. 
Miner, plowed through a foot of snow 
and in just over an hour overran sur- 
prised German outposts to take Tettin- 
gen, the first village behind the dragon's 
teeth on the western slopes of a high 
hogback ridgeline marked by the trace 
of a major highway leading northeast to 
Saarburg. (Map So successful was 
the assault that the regimental com- 
mander ordered Colonel Miner to con- 
tinue into the adjacent village of Butz- 
dorf. Although fire from an alerted 
enemy in nearby pillboxes made this task 
more difficult, Butzdorf too was in hand 
before noon. The next day, when the 
3d Battalion of the 376th Infantry at- 



1 Cole, The Lorraine Campaign, chs. XI, XIII. 



2 In addition to official records of the 94th Di- 
vision and a series of combat interviews, see an 
excellent unit history, Laurence G. Byrnes, ed., 
History of the 94th Infantry Division in World 
War II (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1948). 
See also XX Corps Association, The XX Corps: 
Its History and Service in World War II (Japan, 
n.d.) (Hereafter cited as XX Corps History), and 
detailed comments by General Malony on the draft 
manuscript for this volume. 



118 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



tacked toward Nennig and two other 
villages on the Moselle floodplain north- 
west of Tettingen and Butzdorf, the go- 
ing was less easy, but as night came on 15 
January these three villages forming the 
western anchor of the Orscholz Switch 
also were in hand. 

The rapidity with which the two 
thrusts had broken into the switch posi- 
tion was attributable in large measure 
to the fact that the enemy's 416th Infan- 
try Division, responsible for the sector 
since November, was gravely overex- 
tended. Only two regiments held the 
entire Orscholz Switch, while the third 
defended in the West Wall beyond the 
Saar. Only the division replacement 
battalion was available as a reserve. 3 

Before dawn on 15 January, even as 
the 3d Battalion, 376th Infantry, moved 
toward Nennig and the other villages on 
the Moselle floodplain, the 416th Divi- 
sion'?, replacement battalion counter- 
attacked at Butzdorf and Tettingen. Al- 
though close-in fighting raged for a time 
in both villages, the Germans in the end 
had to fall back. Of some 400 who made 
the counterattack, scarcely more than a 
hundred escaped; some died from minor 
wounds after prolonged exposure in the 
subfreezing cold. 4 

As General Malony had hoped, the 
attacks had prompted German counter- 
attack with attendant German losses. 
What he had not counted on was a coin- 
cidence that provided the Germans in 



8 MS # B-573, Battles of the 416th Infantry 
Division Between the Moselle and the Saar From 
5 October 1944 to 17 February 1945 (Oberleutnant 
Karl Redmer, after consultation with various of- 
ficers of the 416th Div, LXXXII Corps, and ad- 
jacent units); MS # B-090, Rhineland Campaign 
(Generalleutnant Kurt Pflieger, CG 416th Div). 

4 Ibid., Byrnes, History of the p4th Infantry Di- 
vision in World War II, pp. 95-98. 



the Orscholz Switch a powerful force for 
another counterattack. While the 94th 
Division was preparing its two thrusts, 
the enemy's nth Panzer Division had 
"been en route to the very sector General 
Malony had chosen for his first attacks. 

Having been scheduled for the Arden- 
nes counteroffensive but not committed, 
the nth Panzer Division early in January 
was shifted south across the army group 
boundary, which bisected the northern 
corner of the Saar-Moselle triangle. With 
the shift the panzer division became a 
reserve for Army Group G. 

The commander of Army Group G, 
General Blaskowitz, planned a variety of 
exercises in which he would use the 
panzer division in concert with other 
units to complement a faltering Opera- 
tion NORDWIND in Alsace, but for 
lack of additional units, none of the 
plans had materialized. In the end, 
Blaskowitz assigned the panzer division 
to the LXXXII Corps (General der 
Infanterie Walther Hahm) , one of three 
corps operating directly under the army 
group without an intervening army 
headquarters. The LXXXII Corps was 
responsible for a long stretch of the Saar 
and for the Orscholz Switch. In order to 
relieve pressure on the embattled Sev- 
enth Army in the Ardennes, the nth 
Panzer Division was to make a strong 
armored raid out of the Orscholz Switch, 
three and a half miles to the southwest to 
heights on the east bank of the Moselle 
overlooking the meeting point of the 
German and Luxembourg frontiers. 
Target date for the raid was mid-Janu- 
ary. The axis of attack was to run directly 
through Butzdorf and Tettingen. 5 

s MSS # B-417, The nth Panzer Division in the 
Rhineland, 20 December 1944-10 February 1945 
(Generalleutnant Wend von Wietersheim, CG nth 



THE SAAR-MOSELLE TRIANGLE 



119 




Crew of a 3-Inch Gun on the watch for German tanks in the Saar-Moselle 
triangle. 



For want of fuel and because capacity 
of bridges over the Saar was limited, 
some 50 Mark V (Panther) tanks of the 
nth Panzer Division had to remain east 
of the Saar. The raid would be entrusted 
to 30 Mark IV (medium) tanks, 20 to 



Panzer Division); $ B-066, Engagements Fought 
by LXXXII Army Corps During the Period 2 
December 1944 to 27 March 1945 (Oberst Ludwig 
Graf von Ingelheim, CofS LXXXII Corps); # 
B-573 (Redmer). See also Magna Bauer, Army 
Group G, January 1945, MS prepared in OCMH 
to complement this volume. 



30 assault guns, and 2 relatively full- 
strength panzer grenadier regiments. 8 

American pilots reported German 
armor crossing the Saar during the day of 
16 January, so that when night came the 
94th Division was fully alert. At Butz- 
dorf, Tettingen, Nennig, and the other 

Unless otherwise noted, sources for nth Panzer 
Division actions are as cited in the footnote above. 
Note that some of the German officers, having 
worked without benefit of contemporary records, 
sometimes erred on dates. Byrnes in his 94th Di- 
vision history provides a detailed lower-level 
German account, apparently from prisoner inter- 
rogations. 



120 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



villages, the men worked through 17 
January to lay antitank mines and bring 
up tank destroyers and additional ba- 
zookas. (The 94th Division as yet had no 
attached tank battalion.) Through the 
night the sound of tracked vehicles 
emanated from woods and villages to the 
north and northeast. Then at 0300 on 1 8 
January a patrol returned with two 
prisoners who confirmed all suspicions: 
the prisoners were from nth Panzer 
Division. 

At dawn on the 18th the storm broke. 

For twenty minutes German mortars 
and artillery worked over Butzdorf and 
Tettingen, then from the northeast from 
the nearby village of Sinz emerged a 
long column of tanks, assault guns, half- 
tracks bulging with greatcoated Ger- 
mans, and infantry on foot. Despite 
heavy concentrations of defensive artil- 
lery fire, the Germans kept coming. As 
half the force struck Butzdorf, the other 
half swung in a wide arc to hit Tettin- 
gen. 

For more than an hour confusion 
reigned in both villages as German tanks 
and assault guns shot up the landscape 
and infantrymen of both sides fought at 
close quarters among the damaged build- 
ings. Mines disabled some of the German 
vehicles, and a 57-mm. antitank gun 
caught one tank broadside, but in the 
main it was a job for intrepid infantry- 
men stalking with bazookas. 

Shortly after 0900 the Germans fell 
back, but just before noon ten tanks 
again emerged from Sinz, took up hull 
defilade positions and persistently 
pounded the two villages. At 1430 three 
battalions of German infantry launched a 
fresh assault, this time directed primarily 
at Butzdorf. Again the Germans oc- 



cupied many of the houses. Again close- 
in fighting raged. 

Throughout the afternoon the lone 
American company in Butzdorf fought 
back, but as night approached the sur- 
vivors controlled only a few buildings. 
So fire-swept was the open ground be- 
tween Tettingen and Butzdorf that the 
Americans could bring neither reinforce- 
ments nor supplies forward. As darkness 
fell General Malony authorized the sur- 
vivors in Butzdorf to fall back. 

The company commander in Butz- 
dorf, 1st Lt. David F. Stafford, already 
had arrived independently at the con- 
clusion that withdrawal was the only 
course left to him short of surrender or 
annihilation. Tearing doors off their 
hinges to serve as litters for the seriously 
wounded, what was left of the company 
slowly pulled back through Stygian dark- 
ness and a heavy snowfall while guns of 
the 284th and 919th Field Artillery 
Battalions fired covering concentrations. 

When the survivors reached Tettin- 
gen, they found a fresh battalion of the 
376th Infantry in position to defend that 
village. Although no one could have 
known it at the time, the high-water 
mark of the raid through the Orscholz 
Switch had come and gone. The Ger- 
mans had taken Butzdorf, and three days 
later, during the night of 21 January, 
they succeeded in fighting their way into 
half the village of Nennig on the Moselle 
floodplain and into a castle northeast of 
Nennig, but that was the end. Handi- 
capped by absence of heavy tanks, 
severely restricted by the snow-covered 
terrain (one thrust on Nennig bogged 
down when the tanks foundered in an 
antitank ditch concealed by snowdrifts) , 
and punished by artillery fire directed 
from an observation post on heights west 



THE SAAR-MOSELLE TRIANGLE 



121 




Removing German Dead After Fighting in Nennig 



of the Moselle, the nth Panzer Division 
could only slow the tempo of the 94th 
Division's thrusts. 7 

Hardly had the echoes of the fighting 
with the panzer division died down when 
General Malony aimed another limited 
objective attack into the German line. 
This time he chose to strike at the 
eastern anchor of the Orscholz Switch, at 
Orscholz itself, where a regiment of the 
overextended 416th Infantry Division 
still was responsible for the defense. A 

Tor a description of German difficulties, see 
MSS # B-417 (Wietersheim) and # B-066 (In- 
gelheim). 



penetration at Orscholz, combined with 
that at Tettingen, might be exploited 
later into a double envelopment of the 
center of the switch position. 

Orscholz perched atop a ridge with 
snow-covered open fields gently sloping 
to the south. The only logical covered 
approach to the village from the posi- 
tions held by the 94th Division was 
through the Saarburg Forest, southwest 
and west of the village. Through this 
forest the 301st Infantry commander, 
Col. Roy N. Hagerty, planned to send 
his 1st Battalion in a surprise attack just 
before dawn on 20 January. The battal- 



122 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



ion was to reach the east-west Oberleu- 
ken-Orscholz highway running through 
the woods, then to turn eastward and 
strike at Orscholz. 

As the men of the ist Battalion moved 
into position, the night was bitterly cold 
and a swirling snowstorm made night- 
time control even more difficult than 
usual. Daylight had come before the two 
assault companies were ready to cross the 
line of departure, a stretch of dragon's 
teeth in a clearing a few hundred yards 
south of the Oberleuken-Orscholz high- 
way. Company B on the left moved si- 
lently forward, not a shot barring the 
way. Company A on the right was less 
fortunate. As the men passed among the 
projections of the concrete antitank 
obstacle a drumbeat of explosions filled 
the air. Mines. 

Company B meanwhile continued 
silently through the forest, reached the 
highway, and turned east toward Or- 
scholz. The advance guard overran 
several German machine gun positions, 
but in general the move was unopposed. 
Reaching the edge of the woods over- 
looking Orscholz, the company com- 
mander, Capt. Herman C. Straub, halted 
his men to await the rest of the battalion. 

At the line of departure, the battalion 
commander, Lt. Col. George F. Miller, 
had tried to shift Company A to the left 
to follow in the footsteps of Company B, 
but too late. The explosions in the mine- 
field had alerted the Germans in pill- 
boxes and communications trenches 
overlooking the clearing. Company A 
came under a withering crossfire from 
automatic weapons. As the men fell to 
the ground for protection, mortars and 
artillery ploughed the clearing with 
deadly bursts. Among those killed was 
Colonel Miller. 



Although the regimental commander. 
Colonel Hagerty, sent a company from 
another battalion to reinforce the attack, 
every effort to get across the clearing 
merely increased the casualty toll. One 
company lost sixty men to antipersonnel 
mines alone. Tank destroyers tried to 
help, but the ground in the clearing was 
marshy and not frozen solidly enough to 
support the self-propelled guns. Patrols 
sent out after nightfall in search of a 
route past the German defenses found no 
solution. 

When daylight came again, the regi- 
mental executive officer, Lt. Col. Donald 
C. Hardin, sent to replace Colonel Miller 
as battalion commander, told Colonel 
Hagerty it would take an entire regiment 
to push the attack successfully. Although 
the corps commander, General Walker, 
earlier had modified the 1 -battalion 
restriction imposed on the 94th Divi- 
sion's attacks and had granted approval 
for using as much as a regiment to ex- 
ploit a penetration, 8 General Malony saw 
no reason to reinforce what was in effect 
a failure at Orscholz. He gave his permis- 
sion to abandon the effort. 

Captain Straub and Company B in the 
meantime had not long remained un- 
detected at the woods line overlooking 
Orscholz. Learning by radio of the mis- 
fortune that had befallen the rest of the 
battalion, Captain Straub shifted his 
men south of the Oberleuken-Orscholz 
highway to a position adaptable to all- 
round defense. With the aid of protective 
fires from the 301st field artillery, the 
company held, but not without serious 
losses aggravated by the bitter cold. 

With the attack abandoned, word went 
out to Captain Straub to fight his way 



94th Div G-3 Jnl, 18 Jan 45. 



THE SAAR-MOSELLE TRIANGLE 



123 



out. Straub answered that he "could not 
comply." Many of the men were seriously 
wounded; at least one already had 
frozen to death; and ammunition was 
almost gone. Although Colonel Hagerty 
himself talked with Straub by radio, 
outlining a plan to cover the company's 
withdrawal with smoke, the captain 
again said withdrawal was impossible. 
Every attempt to move, he said, brought 
heavy enemy fire that pinned the men 
to their positions. 

Company B and attachments, a force 
of approximately 230 men, raised a white 
flag. 9 

Expanding the Penetration 

For another day after the misfortune 
at Orscholz, those units of the 94th 
Division that had penetrated the western 
end of the switch position at Tettingen 
and Nennig would be fully occupied 
fending off the nth Panzer Division. 
Only on 23 January would the division 
be free to recoup the minor loss of 
ground incurred and return again to 
consolidating and expanding the pene- 
tration. 

Renewed limited objective attacks 
began early on 23 January when a bat- 
talion of the 376th Infantry moved to 
retake the northern half of Nennig, lost 
to the Germans the preceding night. It 
took all day to root a stubborn enemy 
from the damaged houses and at the 
same time eliminate five Mark IV tanks. 

Two men, T. Sgt. Nathaniel Isaacman, 
a platoon sergeant, and Pvt. John F. 
Pietrzah, alone accounted for two of the 



9 301st Inf and 94th Div AAR's, Jan 45; 94th Div 
G-3 Jnl, 21-22 Jan 45; Byrnes, History of the 94th 
Infantry Division, p. 138; Combat interview with 
Hagerty. Direct quotation is from Hagerty. 



tanks and set up a third for the kill. 
Spotting three tanks advancing up a 
narrow street, the men climbed to the 
top of a house, then crept from one roof- 
top to another to gain a position above 
the tanks. The first rocket from Pietrzah's 
bazooka missed, but a second sent the 
lead tank up in flames. Another rocket 
put a quick end to the tank in the rear. 
The third tank, trapped between the 
other two, fell ready prey to a rifle gren- 
ade fired by a man on the ground, Pvt. 
Albert J. Beardsley. 10 

In the attack at Nennig, the battalion 
of the 376th Infantry had the assistance 
of a company of armored infantrymen. 
This presaged introduction of a new 
force in the Orscholz Switch, a combat 
command of the 8th Armored Division. 
The armored division, yet to see combat, 
had rushed across France earlier in the 
month in reaction to Operation NORD- 
WIND. Not used in that fight, the divi- 
sion had been attached temporarily to 
the Third Army for combat training. 
The army commander, General Patton, 
saw in the attachment an opportunity to 
give the division battle experience while 
at the same time remedying the 94th 
Division's lack of attached tanks. He gave 
General Malony the 8th Armored's Com- 
bat Command A (Brig. Gen. Charles F. 
Colson) , but stipulated that the armor 



10 On the same day, T. Sgt. Nicholas Oresko led 
his platoon of the 302d Infantry in an attack to 
clear German-held pillboxes near Tettingen. Ser- 
geant Oresko singlehandedly knocked out a ma- 
chine gun that was pinning down his men with 
fire from a bunker. Wounded in the hip, he re- 
fused evacuation and again advanced alone to 
knock out another machine gun firing from a field 
fortification. Still Oresko refused evacuation until 
his platoon's mission had been accomplished. He 
subsequently received the Medal of Honor. 



124 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



was to be used for only forty-eight 
hours. 11 

Prodded by General Walker and his 
staff officers at XX Corps headquarters, 12 
Malony was determined to get as much 
help as possible from the combat com- 
mand before the time limit expired. He 
intended to use the armor to help turn 
the limited penetration of the Orscholz 
Switch into a genuine breach that might 
be exploited quickly into breakout. 

Malony's plan revolved around cap- 
ture of Sinz, northeast of Butzdorf and 
Tettingen, and wooded high ground 
northwest of Sinz. From there, in a sub- 
sequent stage, he planned to take Mun- 
zingen, a mile and a half to the east, a 
village crowning the hogback ridge lead- 
ing deep into the Saar-Moselle triangle. 
Holding the high ground northwest of 
Sinz and at Munzingen, the 94th Divi- 
sion would be all the way through the 
Orscholz Switch, in a favorable position 
for exploitation. 

The role of the armor in the Sinz 
attack was to advance northeast from the 
vicinity of Nennig, clear pillboxes along 
a road leading into Nennig from the 
west, then help infantry of the 94th 
Division take the village. Before com- 
mitting the armor, General Malony in- 
tended his infantry to occupy high 
ground northeast of Nennig, including 
the castle occupied earlier by units of 
the nth Panzer Division. That would set 
up more favorable conditions for using 
the armor. 

As events developed, the battalion of 

11 In addition to official 8th Armored Div records, 
see also 94th Div G-3 Jnl for the period; Capt. 
Charles R. Leach, In Tornado's Wake — A History 
of the 8th Armored Division (8th Armored Divi- 
sion Association, 1956); Gay Diary, entry of 17 
Jan 45. 

13 94th Div G-3 Jnl, 23-26 Jan 45. 



the 376th Infantry assigned to take the 
castle was, by the early hours of 25 
January, so worn out from the fight at 
Nennig that the commander urged that 
some other unit be given the task. The 
CCA commander, General Colson, vol- 
unteered his unit. At dawn on 25 Janu- 
ary, half the combat command, organized 
as a task force under Lt. Col. Arthur D. 
Poinier, commander of the 7th Armored 
Infantry Battalion, jumped off, only to 
discover quickly that the nth Panzer 
Division still had a lot of fight left. So 
perturbed at the slow pace of the day's 
advance was the corps commander, Gen- 
eral Walker, that he removed all restric- 
tions on the size of the forces the 94th 
Division might commit. "Go ahead," he 
said, "and use them all." 13 At the same 
time, he tacitly agreed to extending the 
time limit on use of the combat com- 
mand an extra day — through 27 January. 

As finally decided, two regiments and 
the combat command were to make the 
attack. On the left, the 302d Infantry 
(Col. Earle A. Johnson) was to pave the 
way for the armor; on the right, the 
376th Infantry (Col. Harold H. Mc- 
Clune) was to move on Sinz. Avoiding 
open ground south of Sinz, the regiment 
was to attack through woods southwest 
and west of the village and link with the 
armor along the highway in the woods 
for the assault on the village itself. A 
battalion of the 302d, operating directly 
under division control, meanwhile was 
to recapture Butzdorf, lost on the first 
day of German counterattacks. 

The most encouraging success on 26 
January came on the right. There an 
antipersonnel minefield hidden by the 
deep snow stymied one battalion, but 



94th Div G-3 Jnl, 25 Jan 45. 



THE SAAR-MOSELLE TRIANGLE 



125 



two companies of another battalion 
slipped past and gained the woods over- 
looking Sinz from the west. Although 
three German tanks supported by infan- 
try counterattacked, bazookas accounted 
for two of the tanks and drove the other 
away. Artillery fire took care of the Ger- 
man infantry. The two companies dug 
in for the night, protecting their left and 
rear with the 376th Infantry's reserve 
battalion, which got safely past the mine- 
field and into the woods by following 
the route the two leading companies 
had taken. 

According to the plan, the armor was 
to have linked with this force along the 
highway bisecting the forest, but the 
armor and the 303d Infantry on the left 
ran into trouble. Intense machine gun 
fire from the north stopped the infantry- 
men, while the armor after getting into 
the western edge of the woods came to 
a halt before a deep antitank ditch. 

The next day, 27 January, as the corps 
commander, General Walker, warned 
that the armored combat command 
would be withdrawn that night, General 
Malony committed a battalion of his 
reserve, the 301st Infantry, to help clear 
a path for the tanks. Although armored 
engineers during the night had bridged 
the antitank ditch, the fresh infantry 
battalion had to spend all morning tak- 
ing out machine guns and an antitank 
gun before the armor could cross. Soon 
after midday CCA's tanks at last started 
forward and quickly linked with men of 
the 376th Infantry overlooking Sinz. 

Assault on the village itself was 
delayed, first by a counterattack against 
the left flank in the woods, then by ac- 
curate German tank fire from hills and 
woods north and east of Sinz. Darkness 
was falling when a platoon of tanks and 



two infantry companies at last gained a 
toehold in the village against stalwart de- 
fenders of the nth Panzer Division. In 
the process, CCA's 18th Tank Battalion 
knocked out eight German tanks but lost 
six of its own. 

When General Malony asked to keep 
the combat command to finish taking 
the village the next day, General Walker 
declined. The period of indoctrination 
was over. The 94th Division was to take 
a rest, then later to resume its limited 
objective attacks. 14 

Broadening the Effort 

Almost coincident with the arrival' of 
a new directive from General Walker 
to resume the attack but to employ no 
more than a regiment at a time, the 
February thaw and the rains came. Be- 
ginning on 2 February rain fell for eight 
days, turning foxholes into frigid dirty 
bathtubs and roads into oozing ribbons 
of mud. Yet the attacks began, concen- 
trating on objectives designed to obtain 
eventual control of the hogback ridge 
leading into the depths of the Saar- 
Moselle triangle. 

Malony first turned the 303d Infantry 
against Kampholz Woods, southeast of 
Tettingen on the western slopes of the 
ridge. Resistance was stubborn, partic- 
ularly from a nest of pillboxes on ap- 
proaches to the woods from the west. 
The last of the pillboxes held out until 
8 February. 

Meanwhile, Malony reverted to his 
original plan of gaining a hold on the 
hogback ridge at Munzingen by first 
taking Sinz. Moving just before daylight 
on 7 February, a battalion of the 301st 



94th Div G-3 Jnl, 27 Jan 45. 



126 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




General Walker 



Infantry quickly took the first houses and 
went on to clear the rest of the village 
during the day; but another battalion, 
trying to clear Bannholz Woods, a domi- 
nating copse north of the village, ran into 
tanks and panzer grenadiers of the nth 
Panzer Division and had to fall back. 

From the German viewpoint, a ready 
explanation for the differing resistance 
at Sinz and in the Bannholz Woods was 
available. Persistent protestations by the 
nth Panzer Division commander, Gen- 
eral von Wietersheim, that his recondi- 
tioned panzer force was being needlessly 
bled to death on an inappropriate assign- 
ment had begun to pay off two days be- 
fore. On the 5th the first contingents of 
the 256th Volks Grenadier Division had 
arrived to begin relieving the panzer 



division, although a small contingent still 
was present on the 7th in Bannholz 
Woods. 15 

Units of the 94th Division made three 
more tries to take Bannholz Woods dur- 
ing the next few days, but without suc- 
cess. Although the opposition continued 
to come from the panzer division, bit by 
bit intelligence information gathered 
from other parts of the line revealed the 
gradual withdrawal of the tanks and 
introduction of the 256th Division. In 
light of the condition of the volks 
grenadiers, badly mauled in Operation 
NORDWIND in Alsace, the shift could 
only weaken the enemy's hold on the 
Orscholz Switch. The time clearly was 
approaching for a full-scale attack to 
reduce the switch position and open the 
entire Saar-Moselle triangle to swift re- 
duction. Conferring with Malony on 15 
February, the corps commander, General 
Walker, gave the word to lift all restric- 
tions and launch a major assault. 16 

General Malony developed his plan as 
a logical extension of the earlier probing 
attacks, this time aimed at a complete 
rupture of the Orscholz Switch and early 
capture of the hogback ridge. Colonel 
Hagerty's 301st Infantry was to make the 
main effort from Sinz to reach the crest 
of the ridge and the highway leading 
northeast from Munzingen. Colonel Mc- 
Clune's 376th Infantry was to protect the 
30ist's left flank, while Colonel John- 
son's 302d Infantry on the division's 
right was to strike almost due east from 
the Kampholz Woods to the crest of the 
hogback ridge and then roll up the for- 
ward line of pillboxes farther east. An 

1B MSS # B-417 (Wietersheim) and # B-066 
(Ingelheim). 

16 Byrnes, History of the 94th Infantry Division, 
P- 239. 



THE SAAR-MOSELLE TRIANGLE 



127 



elaborate program of corps and division 
artillery fire was designed to isolate the 
battlefield but to guard surprise by be- 
ginning only as the infantry moved to the 
attack. 17 

To exploit success, General Walker 
had no armored force immediately avail- 
able. The 8th Armored Division early in 
February had passed to another com- 
mand. Even though the 10th Armored 
Division (Maj. Gen. William H. H. 
Morris, Jr.) had been attached to the 
XX Corps on 1 1 February, General 
Eisenhower had specified that the divi- 
sion be employed only with his approval, 
a reflection of post-Ardennes insistence 
on a sturdy reserve. Walker asked Eisen- 
hower, through General Patton, for per- 
mission to use the 10th Armored, but 
received only a promise that the armor 
would be released once the infantry 
achieved a clear breakthrough. 18 Walker 
took the reply as sufficient authority to 
direct General Morris to reconnoiter 
zones of advance and prepare for early 
commitment. 

Rain was falling when before daylight 
on 19 February men of the 301st Infantry 
moved east from Sinz up the slopes of the 
hogback ridge in the direction of Mun- 
zingen. In less than two hours the pattern 
the fighting would assume became ap- 
parent. An occasional group of Germans 
would fight back tenaciously, particularly 
when protected by pillboxes or bunk- 
ers, but in the main the opposition bore 
no comparison to that put up earlier by 
the panzer division. By daylight the 1st 
and 3d Battalions held the crest of the 
ridge, just short of Munzingen. 

Antipersonnel mines were the biggest 

"94th Div FO 11, 16 Feb 45. 
18 Combat Interview with XX Corps G-3, 5 Mar 
45; Gay Diary, entry of 18 Feb 45. 



problem. Company B's 1st Platoon, for 
example, lost all but sixteen men in a 
minefield before the platoon sergeant, T. 
Sgt. Henry E. Crandall, managed to blast 
a path through with primacord. The 
Germans in a nearby pillbox kept 
Crandall and his trapped men under 
vicious machine gun fire until the sur- 
vivors got past the mines, then surren- 
dered docilely. 

A battalion of the 376th Infantry had 
a similar experience in Bannholz Woods, 
north of Sinz, the scene of such bitter 
fighting in the earlier limited objective 
attacks. Before dawn, men of this bat- 
talion pushed past unwary German de- 
fenders to gain the far edge of the woods 
with little difficulty, then later rounded 
up the prisoners. Totally different from 
the panzer grenadiers, these Germans 
had no stomach for the fight. 

By this time, the 94th Division's lack 
of tank support had been remedied with 
attachment of the 778th Tank Battalion, 
which participated in the 376th Infan- 
try's attack. Tanks also came to the 
rescue of men of the 302d Infantry in 
their drive from Kampholz Woods to 
the crest of the hogback ridge along the 
forward line of Orscholz Switch pill- 
boxes. There the infantrymen were tak- 
ing comparatively severe casualties from 
pillboxes manned by troops of the 416th 
Infantry Division until, with daylight, 
the tanks arrived. 

Only a few hours after dawn on 19 
February, the fact was clear that the 94th 
Division had penetrated the Orscholz 
Switch, whereupon General Malony 
urged General Walker to send the 10th 
Armored Division through. Walker in 
turn telephoned the Third Army com- 
mander, General Patton, for permission. 
Unable to reach General Bradley at 12th 



128 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Army Group headquarters, Patton tele- 
phoned directly to SHAEF, where the 
operations officer, Maj. Gen. Harold R. 
Bull, agreed but with the proviso that 
the armored division be returned to the 
SHAEF reserve as soon as the Saar- 
Moselle triangle was clear. Since Patton 
already was thinking of going beyond 
the original objectives if all went 
smoothly, the restriction rankled. He 
had to accept it nevertheless and notified 
Walker to turn the armor loose. 19 

The delay in permission to use the 
armor held up the exploitation until the 
next day, 20 February, but once com- 
mitted, the armor was not to be denied. 
Moving along the west side of the tri- 
angle close to the Moselle, the Reserve 
Combat Command (Col. Wade C. Gat- 
chell) , with the 94th Division's 376th 
Infantry attached, was to advance almost 
thirteen miles to the northern tip of the 
triangle while CCA (Brig. Gen. Edwin 
W. Piburn) drove north up the center of 
the triangle. When CCR reached the tip, 
CCA was to swing northeast, hoping to 
take advantage of enemy confusion to 
seize bridges across the Saar at Kanzem 
and Wiltingen, and thereby point a dag- 
ger toward Trier. 20 

Except for the problem of herding 
prisoners, CCR's advance on the 20th 
was almost a road march, even though 
the attack was delayed until midday 
while a battalion of the 376th Infantry 



19 Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 244; Byrnes, 
History of the 94th Infantry Division, p. 254; Gay 
Diary, entry of 19 Feb 45, Intentions to go beyond 
the triangle are clear from XX Corps FO 16, 19 
Feb 45. 

20 An excellent account of the 10th Armored Di- 
vision's action is to be found in Maj. J. Cantey, 
et al., The 10th U.S. Armored Division in the Saar- 
Moselle Triangle, a research report prepared at 
The Armored School, May, 1949. 



cleared two villages along the line of 
departure. Not long after midnight the 
combat command coiled for the night 
almost halfway up the triangle. 

CCA encountered greater difficulties 
at first. One column, attacking up the 
highway astride the hogback ridge, ran 
into mines and fire from assault guns in 
the first village beyond Munzingen and 
at each of two succeeding villages, but in 
all cases the result was more a question of 
delay than genuine opposition. At one 
point the column overran a regimental 
command post. 

CCA's left column, hampered by a 
traffic jam and an unmapped American 
minefield at the line of departure near 
Sinz, got moving only after full daylight 
had come; but by midafternoon it was 
apparent the column would quickly 
make up the lost time. Although antitank 
minefields and craters blown in the roads 
forced the tanks to move cross-country at 
the beginning of the thrust, once high 
ground three miles northeast of Sinz was 
taken the column returned to the roads. 
Bypassing opposition, one task force 
streaked north and then northeast along 
secondary roads and as darkness came 
occupied high ground north of Tawern, 
almost at the tip of the triangle. 

The next day, 21 February, CCR re- 
newed its advance and reached the ex- 
treme tip of the triangle, while the rest 
of CCA headed for Tawern, eliminating 
last remnants of opposition. The 94th 
Division meanwhile was clearing that 
part of the triangle southeast of the 
armored columns and taking the remain- 
ing pillboxes of the Orscholz Switch from 
the rear. 

After two days of exploitation the Saar- 
Moselle triangle was clear at a cost to the 
Germans in dead and wounded of an 



THE SAAR-MOSELLE TRIANGLE 



129 



estimated 3,000 and as many more cap- 
tured. Only in the 94th Division, where 
the thick antipersonnel minefields en- 
countered on 19 February raised the divi- 
sion's casualties to over a thousand 
wounded, were U.S. losses severe. 

Crossing the Saar 

Despite the speed of the 10th Armored 
Division's advance, the bridges over the 
Saar River at Kanzem and Wiltingen 
were blown before the tanks got there. 
Operating on the theory of using the 
armor until SHAEF said stop, General 
Walker in midaf ternoon of 2 1 February 
ordered General Morris to jump the 
river. During the night the armor was to 
cross northeast of Saarburg while the 
94th Division crossed southeast of the 
town. The bridgeheads then were to be 
joined, whereupon the 94th was to pro- 
tect the armor's south flank while Morris 
drove on Trier. The crossings of the 
Saar then could be linked with the long- 
held bridgehead to the southeast at 
Saarlautern. 21 

Influencing General Walker's desire 
for a quick crossing before the enemy 
could recover from the debacle in the 
triangle was the nature of the terrain on 
the far bank, plus the fortifications of the 
West Wall. Almost everywhere the east 
bank dominates the approaches from the 
west, usually with great wooded, clifflike 
slopes. West Wall pillboxes arranged in 
the normal pattern of mutual support 
covered all the slopes but were in great- 
est depth, sometimes up to three miles, 
at those points where the terrain afforded 
any real possibility for an assault cross- 
ing. The river itself was from 120 to 



XX Corps FO 17, 21 Feb 45. 



150 feet wide, still swollen from the early 
February thaw. 

Through the night convoys carrying 
assault boats toiled toward the Saar, but 
dawn came in the 10th Armored Divi- 
sion's sector with no sign of the boats. 
Alerted to make the crossing opposite 
the village of Ockfen, a mile and a half 
northeast of Saarburg, men of the at- 
tached 376th Infantry took cover in 
houses and cellars. 

Southeast of Saarburg, sixty 12 -man 
assault boats and five motorboats were 
available for the assault battalions of the 
301st and the 302d Infantry; the first 
boat arrived an hour after the planned 
assault time of 0400 (22 February) . Con- 
cealed by the darkness and a dense fog, 
men of both battalions then prepared to 
cross, one battalion opposite the east 
bank village of Serrig, the other at the 
west bank village of Taben. 

Carrying a squad of Company C, 302d 
Infantry, under Staff Sgt. John F. Smith, 
the first boat pushed out into the river 
at Taben at 0650. The fog still held, and 
so difficult was the terrain that the Ger- 
mans had positioned few defenders at 
the site. 

The road leading down the west bank 
was steep and winding. Along the far 
bank ran a 12-foot retaining wall, backed 
by precipitous wooded slopes leading to 
Hoecker Hill, an eminence three-fourths 
of a mile from the river. Finding a ladder 
in place, Sergeant Smith and his men 
quickly scaled the retaining wall and 
captured the startled occupants of a pill- 
box. Other boatloads of men crossed with 
little enemy interference, pulled them- 
selves up the clifflike sides of Hoecker 
Hill, and sent patrols upstream and 
down to broaden the base of the bridge- 
head. Before the morning was well along, 



130 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



all the ist Battalion was across and head- 
ing north toward Serrig to link with men 
of the 301st Infantry, while another bat- 
talion crossed to defend Hoecker Hill 
and the south flank. 

The crossing went less smoothly op- 
posite Serrig. There the assault boats for 
the 3d Battalion, 301st Infantry, were 
even later arriving, and the noise of man- 
handling them to the water's edge alerted 
troops of a local defense battalion in the 
east bank pillboxes. Although German 
fire was blind in the dark and the fog, it 
served to scatter the boats of the leading 
company so that the men touched down 
with little organization remaining. Since 
few of the boats survived the swift cur- 
rent on the return journey, through the 
morning only one company, operating 
in little isolated groups, was on the east 
bank. One group under the company 
commander, Capt. Charles W. Donovan, 
nevertheless took a few buildings on the 
northern edge of Serrig and held them 
until the afternoon when other men of 
the 3d Battalion crossed in a fresh batch 
of assault boats equipped with outboard 
motors. White phosphorus shells fired by 
the 8 1st Chemical Battalion and smoke 
pots emplaced at the crossing site helped 
make up for loss of the fog cover. As 
night fell on 22 February, Serrig was 
secure, the bridgeheads of the 301st and 
302d Infantry Regiments joined. 

At Ockfen, northeast of Saarburg, the 
10th Armored Division's assault boats 
finally arrived at midday. Under pressure 
from Patton, 22 General Morris ordered a 
crossing in late afternoon; but by this 
time the fog had dissipated and German 
machine gun fire from West Wall pill- 
boxes so splattered the flats leading to 



the crossing site that the 81st Chemical 
(Smoke Generator) Company could get 
no smoke generators into position to 
screen the site. Neither could the assault 
companies of the attached 376th Infantry 
get down to the river. 

In the brief time between daylight and 
late afternoon of 22 February, the Ger- 
mans had managed to supplement the 
local defense battalions in this part of 
the West Wall with those remnants of 
the 256th Volks Grenadier Division that 
had escaped across the Saar ahead of the 
American armor. Although ill-prepared 
to counter such a quick thrust against 
the Saar line, the LXXXII Corps com- 
mander, General Hahm, was helped 
when his southern boundary was shifted 
northward to coincide roughly with the 
east end of the Orscholz Switch, thereby 
freeing one regiment of the 416th Infan- 
try Division that had not been involved 
in the Orscholz fight. He also benefited 
from the fact that one of the panzer 
grenadier battalions of the nth Panzer 
Division had yet to leave the area. These 
forces General" Hahm would'be able to 
bring to bear as the bridgehead fight 
continued. 23 

At Ockfen General Morris had no 
alternative but to postpone the 376th 
Infantry's assault again until after night- 
fall. Beginning an hour before midnight, 
two battalions, each in column of com- 
panies, at last began to cross. 

In the northernmost sector, that of the 
3d Battalion, the darkness was all that 
was required. The leading company 
reached the east side of the river without 
drawing a single round of enemy fire, 
quickly cleared the pillboxes guarding 



Gay Diary, entry of 82 Feb 45. 



a MS # B-066 (Ingelheim). 



THE SAAR-MOSELLE TRIANGLE 



131 



the bank, and opened a way for the rest 
of the battalion. 

Not so at the ist Battalion's crossing 
site a few hundred yards upstream. As 
the boats of Company C touched down 
on the far bank, the Germans in the pill- 
boxes brought down their final protec- 
tive fires. Fortunately, visibility was too 
restricted by darkness and fog for the 
defenders to spot the attackers, even at 
distances of only a few feet. Discerning 
the pattern of enemy fires from tracer 
bullets, the men of Company C began to 
advance by small groups in short rushes, 
gradually forcing their way into the pill- 
box belt and beginning, one by one, to 
reduce the fortifications. 

German artillery and mortars mean- 
while pounded the river itself and the 
west bank, sinking many of the assault 
boats and three times wounding the 
376th Infantry commander, Colonel Mc- 
Clune. The rest of the 1st Battalion 
nevertheless crossed to the east bank 
before daylight, though for lack of assault 
boats one company had to move down- 
stream and use the 3d Battalion's craft. 
There, in wake of the 3d Battalion, the 
2d Battalion already had crossed. In mid- 
afternoon the 2d Battalion moved be- 
hind a heavy artillery preparation to 
take Ockfen; and by nightfall, 23 Febru- 
ary, units of the regiment outposted 
wooded high ground on three sides of 
the village. 

To the XX Corps commander, Gener- 
al Walker, it had occurred earlier in the 
day that expansion of both his Saar 
crossings might be speeded by early 
blocking of the main east-west highway 
into the sector, a road leading from the 
enemy's main lateral route behind the 
Saar at the settlement of Zerf westward to 
the river at Beurig, across from Saarburg. 



Walker ordered a special force, the 5th 
Ranger Battalion (Lt. Col. Richard P. 
Sullivan) , to cross into the 94th Divi- 
sion's Serrig-Taben bridgehead, then to 
slip through the woods toward the north- 
east for some three and a half miles and 
establish a roadblock on the highway 
west of Zerf. 

Guiding on a compass bearing, the 
Rangers began to move at midnight, 23 
February. They reached their objective 
just before dawn. Quickly establishing a 
perimeter defense, they began to collect 
unwitting Germans as they passed along 
the road. 24 

Anticipating a determined German re- 
action against the Rangers' roadblock, 
Walker arranged a maneuver designed 
both to relieve the Rangers and to cap- 
ture the village of Beurig so that tactical 
bridges could be built across the river 
from Saarburg to take advantage of the 
roadnet around the town. As a first step, 
he ordered General Malony to drive 
north to Beurig. Since likely bridging 
sites in the 10th Armored Division's 
zone still were under observed fire, 
Walker told General Morris to take his 
armor south and cross the Saar on a 94th 
Division bridge that would be ready at 
Taben in midafternoon on 24 February. 
The tanks then were to follow units of 
the 94th Division into Beurig. There 
they were to pick up their armored in- 
fantrymen, who were to cross into the 
Ockfen bridgehead in assault boats late 
on 24 February and push south to 
Beurig. Tanks and armored infantry 
together were to drive east along the 
main highway to relieve the Rangers. 

The maneuver failed to develop ex- 
actly as planned. Although the tanks and 



5th Ranger Bn AAR, Feb 45. 



132 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



half-tracks of Combat Command B (Col. 
William L. Roberts) , leading the 10th 
Armored's advance, crossed the Taben 
bridge early on 25 February, the 94th 
Division's northward drive had been 
slowed by tenacious resistance from pill- 
boxes and by heavy mortar fire. Held up 
on the fringe of Beurig, the infantrymen 
realized they would be unable to take 
the village before the armor arrived. 
They sent guides back down the road to 
intercept the tanks and lead them along 
a wooded trail that bypassed Beurig and 
led to the Beurig-Zerf highway. The only 
infantry available to assist the tanks were 
three officers and twenty-four men of the 
Ranger battalion who had become sepa- 
rated from their unit and had joined 
CCB's column in Taben. 

By midafternoon the lead tank platoon 
of CCB had emerged from the woods 
onto the main highway and was headed 
east into the village of Irsch. Despite a 
roadblock in the center of the village, 
Irsch appeared deserted. Two of the 
platoon's five tanks had passed the road- 
block when a Tiger tank, a ground- 
mount 88-mm. gun, and two Panzer- 
jausts, all concealed behind nearby build- 
ings, opened fire. In rapid succession they 
knocked out the last three U.S. tanks. 

Hurrying forward, the little group of 
Rangers helped the tankers put the Ger- 
mans to flight, but CCB delayed clearing 
the village until after nightfall, when a 
company of armored infantrymen, mov- 
ing southeast from the Ockfen bridge- 
head and also bypassing Beurig, arrived 
to help. The infantrymen took 290 
prisoners from the 416th Division. 25 

The next day, 26 February, while the 
301st Infantry cleared Beurig with little 

25 Cantey, The 10th U.S. Armored Division in 
the Saar-Moselle Triangle, pp. 90-91. 



difficulty now that the Germans' escape 
route had been cut, CCB headed east on 
the last leg of the drive to relieve the 5th 
Ranger Battalion. By midmorning, de- 
spite long-range fire from the same Tiger 
tank that had caused trouble in Irsch, 
contingents of the combat command 
reached the Rangers. Hard-pressed by 
shelling and counterattacks during the 
second day and third morning in their 
isolated position, the Rangers had not 
only managed to survive but also had 
bagged about a hundred Germans. 26 

While these events were taking place 
beyond the Saar, General Patton had 
been fighting a rear guard action against 
return of the 10th Armored Division' to 
the SHAEF reserve. On 23 February all 
Patton could achieve was a 48-hour 
respite. When that period expired, he 
pleaded with the 12 th Army Group com- 
mander, General Bradley, for help. Brad- 
ley himself took responsibility for letting 
Patton use the armor until nightfall of 
27 February for the express purpose of 
taking Trier. 27 

By dawn of 27 February conditions 
were good for a quick strike north to 
Trier. During the preceding afternoon, 
CCB had advanced beyond the Rangers' 
roadblock, taking Zerf and gaining a hold 
on the highway leading north to Trier, 
eleven miles away. Light ponton bridges 
were operating both at Taben and Serrig 
and a heavy ponton bridge was at Saar- 
burg. Only the disturbing fact that 
prisoner identifications on 26 February 
revealed the presence of a new German 
unit, the 2d Mountain Division, ap- 



26 Combat Interview with Lt; Col. J. J. Richard- 
son, CCB, 10th Armored Division. 

27 Patton, War As I Knew It, pp. 246-47; Gay 
Diary, entries of 24 and 25 Feb 45. 



THE SAAR-MOSELLE TRIANGLE 



133 



peared to stand in the way of a rapid 
drive to Trier. 

Rushed forward by Army Group G to 
bolster the sagging LXXXII Corps, the 
2d Mountain Division, like so many 
other German units, was considerably 
less impressive than its name might in- 
dicate. Its two infantry regiments, for 
example, had only recently been recon- 
stituted from supply and other noncom- 
batant units, and most of the men were 
Austrians lacking fervor for a losing 
cause. Utilizing the sharp defiles, woods, 
and dense concentrations of pillboxes 
below Trier, the mountain division 
nevertheless might have proved an effec- 
tive delaying force had sizable numbers 
of men been able to get into position to 
block a northward drive before CCA 
started it. As it was, the division, arriving 
from the southeast, got there too late and 
could be used only to block to the east 
and southeast. 28 

Defense of Trier itself remained a re- 
sponsibility of Army Group B's Seventh 
Army, already sorely pressed by the drive 
of the U.S. XII Corps on Bitburg. By 
this time most of the troops of the Sev- 
enth Army's 212th Volks Grenadier Di- 
vision, originally charged with defense 
of the city, already had gone north to 
oppose the XII Corps and about all that 
was left to defend Trier were two local 
defense battalions, the city's police, and 
the crews of several stationary 88-mm. 
antiaircraft batteries. 29 

At dawn on 27 February, while the 
94th Division and the Ranger battalion 
sought to expand the Saar bridgehead 
to east and southeast, General Morris 



23 MS # B-066 (Ingelheim). See also MS # 
B-238, Report, 10 February-24 March 1945 (Gen- 
eralmajor Wolf Hauser, CofS First Army). 

2B MS # B-123 (Gersdorff). 



turned CCA north up the main highway 
to Trier. As directed by General Patton 
the preceding day, the 76th Division of 
the XII Corps turned away from the suc- 
cessful drive on Bitburg to head toward 
Trier from the north. 

For all the lack of solid defensive 
units, the Germans on 27 February man- 
aged to delay CCA's column at several 
points, usually with isolated tanks or 
assault guns lying in ambush in terrain 
that restricted CCA's tanks to one road. 
The most serious delay occurred in mid- 
afternoon south of the village of Pel- 
lingen where a minefield 300 yards deep 
disabled two tanks. Armored engineers 
had to spend painful hours under small 
arms fire clearing a path, and further 
advance for the day was stymied. 

Since Trier still lay some six miles 
away and the appointed hour for release 
of the 10th Armored Division had come, 
General Patton again had to appeal to 
General Bradley for continued use of 
the armor until Trier fell. Having had 
no word from SHAEF on keeping the 
division, Bradley told him to keep going 
until higher authority ordered a halt. 
And, the 12 th Army Group commander 
added, he would make it a point to stay 
away from the telephone. 30 

The morning of 1 March, after CCA 
took Pellingen, General Morris sent the 
main body of the combat command 
northwest to the juncture of the Saar 
and the Moselle to prevent any Germans 
remaining in West Wall pillboxes along 
the Saar from falling back on Trier. A 
task force continued up the main road 
toward the city while CCB passed 
through Pellingen and swung to the 
northeast to come upon the objective 



30 Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 249. 



134 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



from the east. In late afternoon, as both 
CCA's task force and CCB continued 
to run into trouble on the fringes of the 
city from pillboxes and 88-mm. antiair- 
craft pieces, Colonel Roberts, CCB's 
commander, ordered the commander of 
the 20th Armored Infantry Battalion, 
Lt. Col. Jack J. Richardson, to enter 
Trier along a secondary road between 
the other two attacking forces. Richard- 
son was to head straight for the city's 
two Moselle bridges. 31 

The night was clear, the moon full, 
and visibility excellent as Task Force 
Richardson in early evening started to- 
ward Trier. Entering the city before 
midnight, the task force encountered a 
German company with four antitank 
guns, but the surprised Germans sur- 
rendered without firing. One of the pris- 
oners revealed that he had been detailed 
as a runner to notify a demolition team 
at one of the bridges when the Americans 
arrived. 

Splitting his force, Richardson sent 
half toward each of the bridges. The 
northern team found its bridge blown, 
but the team moving to the ancient 
Kaiserbruecke, which had stood since 
the Roman occupation of Trier in the 
earliest days of the Christian era, reported 
its bridge intact. Rushing to the bridge 
himself in a tank, Colonel Richardson 
found his men under small arms fire from 
the far bank. Directing .50-caliber ma- 
chine gun fire from his tank onto the 
far end of the bridge, Richardson or- 

31 The following account is based primarily on 
combat interviews with Richardson and Maj. C. R. 
King (10th Armored Division historian). 



dered a platoon of infantry and a pla- 
toon of tanks to dash across. As the 
infantrymen complied, a German major 
and five men ran toward the bridge from 
the far side with detonating caps and an 
exploder. 

They were too late. 

It mattered not whether the delay in 
blowing the bridge was attributable to 
concern for the historic monument or 
to the fact that the German officer was 
drunk. What mattered was that the 10th 
Armored Division had a bridge across 
the Moselle. 

By morning contingents of Combat 
Commands A and B had swept into all 
parts of the city, and the prisoner bag 
increased as sleepy-eyed Germans awoke 
to find American tanks all about them. 
Task Force Richardson alone took 800 
prisoners. A day later, early on 3 March, 
troops of the 76th Division arrived to 
establish contact with the armor on the 
north bank of the Moselle. 

The Orscholz Switch, the Saar-Moselle 
triangle, Trier, and the heavily fortified 
section of the West Wall around Trier 
— all were taken. With the success of the 
operation, the Third Army had torn a 
gaping hole in the West Wall from 
Pruem to a point below Saarburg. 

Studying the operations map, General 
Patton could see two new inviting pros- 
pects before him. Either he could turn 
to the southeast and envelop the Saar 
industrial area, or he could head through 
the Eifel and up the valley of the Moselle 
to the Rhine at Koblenz. 

In either case, the Germans appeared 
powerless to stop him. 



CHAPTER VIII 



Operation Grenade 



While the First Army was focusing on 
the Roer River dams and the Third 
Army probing the Eifel and clearing the 
Saar-Moselle triangle, Field Marshal 
Montgomery's 21 Army Group was 
launching the new Allied main effort. 
Under Montgomery's plan, General 
Crerar's First Canadian Army was to 
open the offensive with Operation Veri- 
table, a drive southeastward up the 
left bank of the Rhine from positions 
gained by the big airborne attack the 
preceding fall in the vicinity of Nijme- 
gen. A few days later General Simpson's 
Ninth Army from positions along the 
Roer River generally northeast of 
Aachen was to launch Operation Gre- 
nade, an assault crossing of Jthe Roer 
followed by a northeastward drive to 
link with the First Canadian Army 
along the Rhine. From positions along 
the Maas River in between Americans 
and Canadians, the Second Army was to 
be prepared to make a complementary 
attack if required. 

Youngest Allied army then opera- 
tional on the Continent, the Ninth 
Army nevertheless had seen consider- 
able fighting — in the conquest of the 
Brittany peninsula in September and in 
the drive from the German border to 
the Roer River in November and early 
December. The Ninth Army's com- 
mander, General Simpson, was an infan- 



tryman with a distinctive appearance; 
he stood over six feet tall and kept his 
head clean shaven. Most of his staff were 
infantrymen, too, including the chief of 
staff, Brig. Gen. James E. Moore, and 
had come to the theater from a training 
command Simpson earlier had held in 
the United States. The headquarters al- 
ready had established a reputation for 
steady, workmanlike performance. As 
General Bradley was to put it later, the 
Ninth Army, "unlike the noisy and 
bumptious Third and the tempera- 
mental First," was "uncommonly nor- 
mal." 1 

During the Ardennes counteroffen- 
sive, the Ninth Army had remained on 
the^defensive, extending its lines north 
and south in order to free troops to re- 
inforce the First Army. All through 
January the army had held a 40-mile 
front extending from the vicinity of 
Monschau near headwaters of the Roer 
downstream to Linnich, northeast of 
Aachen. The command included only 
five divisions under the XIII Corps 
(Maj. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem, Jr.) and 
the XIX Corps (Maj. Gen. Raymond 
S. McLain) . 

To prepare for Operation Grenade, 
it was necessary both to narrow the 
army's front and to build the army's 
strength to at least ten divisions. Reduc- 



1 Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 42a. 



136 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




General Simpson 



ing the frontage by shifting the bound- 
ary between the First and Ninth Armies 
northward left the Ninth Army with 
only its two northernmost divisions, so 
that during the early days of February 
eight others were moved in. 2 

With seven of the army's ten divisions 
in place, boundaries were adjusted on 5 
February. The First Army's VII Corps 
relieved the XIX Corps in place from 
the vicinity of Monschau to an unfin- 
ished autobahn (express highway) run- 
ning from Aachen to Cologne; General 
Collins assumed control of the 8th and 
104th Divisions and subsequently re- 
ceived the 3d Armored and 99th Divi- 

2 A convenient summary of the moves may be 
found in Conquer — The Story of Ninth Army 
(Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1947), one 
of the most objective of the unofficial unit his- 
tories. 



sions. With a zone narrowed to about 
eight miles from the autobahn north to 
a point beyond Juelich, the XIX Corps 
retained the 29th Division on the corps 
left and received the 30th Division for 
commitment on the right, plus the 2d 
Armored and 83d Divisions as reserves. 
Although the zone of the XIII Corps 
remained unchanged (from midway be- 
tween Juelich and Linnich to a point 
four miles downstream from Linnich) 
and General Gillem retained control of 
the io2d Division, the 84th Division 
moved in on 3 February to take over 
the northern half of the corps sector and 
the 5th Armored Division arrived as a 
reserve. 

Through the Ardennes fighting, the 
Ninth Army's north flank had rested on 
the little Wurm River a few miles 
northwest of Linnich. On the other side 
of the Wurm, a corps of the Second Brit- 
ish Army had been containing a Ger- 
man bridgehead west of the Roer, the 
Heinsberg pocket, which the British 
cleared during January. The Ninth 
Army on 6 February then assumed re- 
sponsibility for eighteen miles of the 
British line as far as the confluence of 
the Roer and Maas Rivers at Roermond, 
thus enabling the British to release 
forces to the First Canadian Army for 
Operation Veritable. To occupy the 
new sector, General Simpson attached 
the 8th Armored and 35th Divisions to 
a previously uncommitted corps head- 
quarters, the XVI Corps (Maj. Gen. 
John B. Anderson) , and subsequently 
provided the 79th Division as a reserve. 

The Ninth Army thus had ten divi- 
sions along the Roer River with the 
greatest weight in the southernmost 
XIX Corps. In addition, the army held 
an infantry division, the 95th, in re- 



OPERATION GRENADE 



137 



serve. 3 The total strength of the army 
was 303,243 men. Because the First Ar- 
my's VII Corps, which had four divi- 
sions, was to support the Ninth Army's 
attack, the corps in effect added addi- 
tional strength to the Grenade force of 
approximately 75,000 men. 4 

In direct support of the Ninth Army 
was the XXIX Tactical Air Command 
(Brig. Gen. Richard E. Nugent) , em- 
ploying five groups of fighter-bombers 
(375 planes) and one tactical recon- 
naissance group. For ground fire sup- 
port the Grenade force (the Ninth 
Army and the VII Corps) had 130 bat- 
talions of field artillery and tank de- 
stroyers, totaling more than 2,000 guns, 
one of the heaviest concentrations to be 
employed on the Western Front. The 
two corps making the main effort (XIII 
and XIX) had one artillery piece for 
each ten yards of front, plus tanks, tank 
destroyers, antiaircraft guns, and infan- 
try cannon. 5 In armor the Grenade 
force had only what had come to be re- 
garded as normal in the theater, but a 
powerful assembly nonetheless. Each 
corps had an armored division and each 
infantry division had an attached tank 
battalion, a total of 1,394 tanks. More 
than two-thirds of these were the old 
Sherman with the 75-mm. gun. 6 

As the target date for Grenade ap- 



3 A twelfth division, the 75th, while assigned to 
the Ninth Army effective 17 February, was placed 
under operational control of the British. NUSA 
Sitrep, 18 Feb 45. 

4 NUSA G-i Daily Sum, 23 Feb 45; VII Corps 
Estimated Loss Report, 2400, 1 Mar 45, VII Corps 
G-i Battle Casualties file. 

6 NUSA Artillery Sec AAR, Feb 45; NUSA FA 
and TD Info Sum 57, 26 Feb 45; 2d Revised Copy 
of Appendix 1 to Annex 3, VII Corps FO 15, 22 
F,eb 45. 

"NUSA Armored Sec AAR, Feb 45. One of the 
separate tank battalions had only light tanks. 



proached, the Ninth Army's accumu- 
lated stocks of supplies rose to huge pro- 
portions. In one 5-day period (10-14 
February) , for example, the army re- 
ceived well over 40,000 long tons, the 
biggest delivery to any army in the the- 
ater in a comparable period. Most of it 
arrived by rail in more than 6,000 
freight cars. 7 

Stocks of gasoline in the army's depots 
rose to over 3 million gallons, repre- 
senting over five days of supply with five 
days' reserve. Augmenting ammunition 
deliveries with strict rationing, the army 
amassed 46,000 tons of ammunition, 
equivalent to at least twenty days' sup- 
ply at normal rates of expenditure, four 
times the normal army stockage in the 
theater. It enabled all artillery units of 
the XIX Corps to place two units of fire 
at battery positions in addition to basic 
loads. The XIII Corps provided two 
units of fire for artillery of two of its 
divisions and one unit for that of the 
other two. The weight of the artillery 
projectiles that the XIX Corps alone 
could throw at the enemy in six days 
of combat on a 2-division front was 
8,138 tons. 8 

The Terrain and the Enemy 

In attacking across the Roer River in 
the vicinity of Linnich and Juelich and 
advancing northeastward to the Rhine, 

'NUSA G-4 Periodic Rpts and G-4 Jnl for the 
period. 

8 NUSA Quartermaster and Ordnance AAR's, 
Feb 45; Annex 2 to XIX Corps FO 30, 6 Feb 45; 
and Annex 5 to XIII Corps FO 5, 8 Feb 45. Total 
ammunition allocation for the XIX Corps for the 
period D-day to D plus 5 included: 202,880 rounds 
for 105-mm. howitzers; 64,800 rounds for 155-mm. 
howitzers; 14,400 rounds for 155-mm. guns; 4,500 
rounds for 4.5-inch guns; and 9,000 rounds for 8- 
inch howitzers. XIX Corps G—4 Jnl, 7 Feb 45. 



138 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



the Ninth Army was to drive diagonally 
across the Cologne plain. Generally flat, 
open country traversed by an extensive 
network of hard-surfaced roads, the 
Cologne plain stretches from the high- 
lands of the Eifel to the lowlands of 
northern Germany and the Netherlands. 
The only high ground worthy of the 
name in that part of the plain to be 
crossed by the Ninth Army is an egg- 
shaped plateau extending eastward from 
the vicinity of Linnich and rising no 
higher than 400 feet above sea level. Al- 
though this gently sloping plateau was 
not a critical feature, it drew attention 
from the Ninth Army's planners be- 
cause once it was taken, "the remainder 
of the attack was all downhill." 9 The 
land throughout the plain is mostly ara- 
ble and was planted predominantly in 
grain and stock beets. Observation and 
fields of fire were excellent. 

The only natural military obstacles 
were two big forests and two rivers, the 
Roer and the Erft. The larger of the for- 
ests was in the north. Beginning on the 
east bank of the Roer opposite Heins- 
berg, it extended northward some 
twenty miles to the Dutch border near 
Venlo and secreted a portion of the 
West Wall. Along with the presence of 
a number of small streams immediately 
west of the Roer, this obstacle prompted 
the Ninth Army's planners to forgo 
Roer crossings in that sector. The other 
wooded area was the Hambach Forest, 
east and southeast of Juelich. Although 
planners originally assigned its capture 
to the First Army, on the theory that 
responsibility for a critical terrain fea- 
ture should not be split, when it became 
apparent that the Ninth Army needed 



9 Conquer, p. 147. 



a broader base for attack, they assigned 
the northwestern third of the forest to 
the Ninth Army. 

As planning for the attack began, the 
Roer River dams were still under Ger- 
man control, making of the Roer River 
a disturbing question mark. While the 
Roer is normally a placid stream only 
some ninety feet wide, the Ninth Army's 
engineers estimated that a combination 
of spring thaws and destruction of the 
Roer dams would convert it into a lake 
as much as a mile and a half wide. Even 
after the waters subsided, the Roer val- 
ley would be soft and marshy, impass- 
able to vehicles operating off the roads. 10 
The planners chose crossing sites at the 
narrowest points of the river, mostly at 
the locations of destroyed bridges. 

As the Roer was critical in determin- 
ing the line of departure, so the Erft 
guided the northeasterly direction of the 
main attack. Cutting diagonally across 
the Cologne plain, the Erft splits the 
25-mile distance between the Roer and 
the Rhine almost in half. It enters the 
Rhine at Neuss, opposite Duesseldorf. 
Neither the Erft nor the Erft Canal, 
which parallels the river for much of its 
course, are major military obstacles, but 
a boggy valley floor up to a thousand 
yards wide helps turn the waterways 
into a good natural defense line. Con- 
versely, the river-canal complex might 
be utilized as flank protection for north- 
eastward advance to the Rhine in the 
vicinity of Neuss, the use that the Ninth 
Army intended to make of it. 

Although American intelligence offi- 
cers assumed the enemy would achieve 



10 XIX Corps G-2, Terrain XIX Corps Front to 
Rhine, 30 Oct 44, 406th Inf Jnl, Feb 45; 1104th 
Engineer Combat Gp Rpt, 28 Feb 45, XIX Corps 
AAR, Sec III, Feb 45. 



OPERATION GRENADE 



139 



some defensive advantage from these 
natural features, particularly the Roer, 
they looked to the villages, towns, and 
cities on the plain to provide the core 
of resistance. The assumption was natu- 
ral in view of the Ninth Army's ex- 
perience in November and December in 
driving from the German border to the 
Roer, where the Germans had turned 
villages into mutually supporting strong- 
points. 

The biggest city in the zone to be 
crossed by Grenade forces was 
Muenchen-Gladbach, a textile center. 
With suburbs and a contiguous city of 
Rheydt, Muenchen-Gladbach had a pre- 
war population of 310,000. Considerably 
smaller but vital as road centers were 
the towns of Dueren and Juelich on the 
Roer, both already almost obliterated by 
Allied bombs, and Elsdorf, Erkelenz, 
Viersen, Duelken, and Krefeld. 

The Germans had augmented the 
built-up sectors with extensive field 
fortifications that a large foreign labor 
force had been constructing since late 
fall. There were three lines. The first 
hugged the east bank of the Roer. The 
other two ran six and eleven miles be- 
hind the Roer, the third tying in with 
the Erft River. In the main these forti- 
fications consisted of entrenchments in 
a sawtooth pattern with exits into the 
towns and villages. Antitank obstacles 
and emplacements for antitank, antiair- 
craft, and field pieces were located at ir- 
regular intervals within and between 
the lines. Mines and barbed wire were 
placed rather spottily along the east 
bank of the Roer. 11 



11 In addition to intelligence sources previously 
cited, see: Photo Defense Overprint maps of 30 Jan 
and 1 Feb 45 in XIII Corps G-2 Jnl, 3 Feb 45; VII 
Corps Estimate of the Situation, 22 Feb 45; and 



While American G-2's deemed the 
defensive network well planned and or- 
ganized, all indications were that the 
enemy had far too few troops to man the 
lines. This strengthened the belief that 
the defense would be based on strong- 
points in towns and villages rather than 
on a continuous prepared position in 
depth. 12 

Along the entire Roer front from 
south of Dueren to Heinsberg, intelli- 
gence officers believed, the Germans had 
about 30,000 men supported by 70 
tanks. They estimated six divisions with 
23,500 men and 110 tanks to be in re- 
serve near Cologne. Four miscellaneous 
divisions that had been out of contact 
for some time were presumed capable 
of intervention with 17,000 men and 55 
tanks. 13 

That was the view on 1 February 
when General Eisenhower gave the 
word to mount Grenade, but from that 
day on, the Ninth Army noted a steady 
decrease in German strength. On 6 Feb- 
ruary, for example, General Simpson 
observed that the Fifth Panzer Army 
still was committed defensively in the 
Eifel. Simpson's hopes rose for a speedy 
penetration of the Roer defenses. "We 
will have some tough fighting," he said, 
"but I think we are going right 
through." 14 

After 8 February, the First Canadian 
Army's drive southward from the Nij- 
megen bridgehead (Operation Veri- 



30th and 104th Div Estimates of the Situation, 5 
and 7 Feb 45, respectively. 

12 XIX Corps G-2 Estimate, 17 Feb, and G-2 
Periodic Rpt, 19 Feb 45. 

13 NUSA G-2 Estimate, 2 Feb 45, in XIII Corps 
G-2 Jnl file, 4 Feb 45. 

"NUSA Ltr of Instrs 13, 6 Feb 45; Notes on 
Conf with Officers of 115th Inf, Gen Gerhardt, and 
Others, 7 Feb 45, in 115th Inf AAR, Feb 45. 



140 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



table) forced the Germans to commit 
in the north units from both the gen- 
eral reserve near Cologne and the line of 
the Maas River opposite the British. 
Yet in spite of mud and flood, the 
Canadian attack steadily crushed every- 
thing the Germans could throw in the 
way. 

By the end of the first week, the at- 
tack had drawn in parts of two para- 
chute divisions, the bulk of an infantry 
division from the Maas line, and the 
15th Panzer Grenadier and 116th Pan- 
zer Divisions. Most intelligence officers 
then believed that the Panzer Lehr Di- 
vision was the only armored reserve left 
to Army Groups B and H together. Dur- 
ing the next week another parachute 
division also was drawn into the fight, 
and at the end of the week the Panzer 
Lehr too appeared opposite the Cana- 
dians. 15 

The rapid shuttling of German 
troops confused the intelligence picture. 
Although commitment of the Panzer 
Lehr Division removed the last known 
armored division from German reserves, 
it was hard to believe that the Germans 
would strip their defense of the Cologne 
plain completely. Various G-2's tried to 
guess what divisions the Germans might 
be able to muster, but the facts re- 
mained elusive. The last-minute picture 
was of an enemy along the Roer total- 
ing some 30,000 men supported by 
about 85 assault guns and 30 battalions 
of artillery. Two weak infantry divisions 
and possibly two armored divisions 
might be used to bolster the line. On 
the whole, even if the worst possibilities 
envisaged by the G-2's materialized, the 

15 Intelligence Sums issued between 11 and 21 
Feb by the 12th AGp, 8 and 12 Corps, and XIII 
and XIX Corps. 



enemy probably would be outnumbered 
by at least five to one. 

Catch-as-Catch-Can 

Having long anticipated that the Al- 
lies would strike again toward the Ruhr 
once they eliminated the Ardennes 
bulge, Hitler on 22 January, when or- 
dering the Sixth Panzer Army to the 
east, had directed the Commander in 
Chief West, Field Marshal von Rund- 
stedt, to regroup to the north. To meet 
the threat, Rundstedt proposed 
strengthening the southern wing of Army 
Group H opposite the British and Ca- 
nadians with three divisions culled from 
various points. Once Army Group B 
had shortened its lines by withdrawing 
its southern wing from the Ardennes, 
the forces thus released — about three 
volks grenadier and three armored or 
motorized divisions, plus volks artillery 
and volks werfer brigades — were to be 
shifted to the army group's northern 
wing along the Roer. 10 

A major step in readjusting the front 
involved the exchange of sectors be- 
tween headquarters of the Fifth Panzer 
and Fifteenth Armies. Controlling most 
of the remaining armored units, Man- 
teuffel's Fifth Panzer Army then would 
be on the north in the most threatened 
sector and on terrain suited to armor. 
The LVIII Panzer Corps (General der 
Panzertruppen Walter Krueger) was to 
be fitted with three armored or motor- 
ized divisions and positioned behind the 
Roer line as an army group reserve. 

No one — least of all Rundstedt — 
could have been sanguine about the 
situation. No one more than this old 

16 Unless otherwise noted, German material is 
based on MS # C-O20 (Schramm), 



OPERATION GRENADE 



141 



soldier appreciated the difficulties of 
making the various transfers and meet- 
ing the new drive once it began. Gaso- 
line shortages, unseasonal February 
thaws that turned highways previously 
blocked by ice and snow into quagmires, 
bomb damage to the limited rail net in 
the Eifel, responsibility for shipping the 
Sixth Panzer Army to the east, the way 
Allied aircraft denied almost all day- 
light movement, personnel and materiel 
losses in the Ardennes — all combined to 
project a dismal picture. 

"I am not a pessimist," Rundstedt re- 
ported on 12 February, "but in view of 
the decisive nature of the coming bat- 
tles, I consider it my duty to give a clear 
report of the situation as I see it." 17 

In all of Army Group B, Rundstedt 
said, infantry strength amounted to the 
equivalent of forty-five battalions or six 
and a half full divisions. Within the 
Fifth Panzer and Seventh Armies, each 
battalion faced two-thirds of an enemy 
division, and within the Fifteenth Army, 
most threatened of all until the shift 
with the Fifth Panzer Army could be 
made, an entire division. Nor could re- 
serves to improve the balance in the 
Fifteenth Army be assembled and 
shifted as quickly as additional Ameri- 
can forces could be expected to arrive. 
The proportion of forces on the Fif- 
teenth Army's front was destined to be 
at least two and a half times less favor- 
able than during the prolonged fighting 
west of the Roer in November; avail- 
able artillery ammunition would be less 
than a third that expended in the earlier 
fighting. 

As Allied intelligence had detected, 
the American drive from the Ardennes 



As quoted by Schramm. 



into the Eifel and the Canadian attack 
southeastward from Nijmegen seriously 
interfered with German efforts to 
strengthen the line behind the Roer. Of 
particular concern was the necessity to 
shift the n6th Panzer and Panzer Lehr 
Divisions to oppose the Canadians. The 
n6th still would be engaged there when 
Operation Grenade jumped off, and the 
Panzer Lehr would be withdrawn into 
reserve only on the very eve of Opera- 
tion Grenade. General Krueger's LVIII 
Panzer Corps could not be withheld as a 
reserve but had to be committed in the 
line in command not of armor but of 
infantry. Nor would the projected shift 
of headquarters of the Fifth Panzer and 
Fifteenth Armies be completed before 
the American attack began. Because of 
the continuing American drive in the 
Eifel, the exchange would be delayed 
until the Americans were well beyond 
the Roer. 18 

As D-day for Operation Grenade ap- 
proached, the German lineup in the 
threatened sector was as follows: From a 
boundary in the north near Roermond, 
corresponding to the boundary between 
British and Americans, Army Group B's 
Fifteenth Army (General von Zangen) 
was responsible for a front some fifty 
miles long, extending south to include 
Dueren. The northern third was held 
by the XII SS Corps (Generalleutnant 
Eduard Crasemann) with two infantry 
divisions; the center around Linnich by 
the LXXXI Corps (General der Infan- 
terie Friedrich Koechling) with two in- 
fantry divisions bolstered by a volks 
artillery corps; and the southern third 
around Dueren by the LVIII Panzer 

M Magna E. Bauer, Reorganization of the West- 
ern Front, MS prepared in OCMH to complement 
this volume. 



142 

Corps (Krueger) with a volks grenadier 
division and an infantry division, also 
bolstered by a volks artillery corps. 

The Fifteenth Army had no reserves. 
Army Group B's reserves consisted of 
the pth Panzer Division, assembled 
along the Erft River east of Juelich, 
and the nth Panzer Division, the latter 
in process of assembling near Muenchen- 
Gladbach after Hitler personally or- 
dered the division pulled out of the 
Saar-Moselle triangle. Neither panzer 
division was anywhere near full strength. 
Tanks and assault guns in all of Army 
Group B totaled only 276. 19 

Operation Grenade was destined to 
strike a front manned and equipped on 
a catch-as-catch-can basis. 

Objectives and Maneuvers 

Against this enemy whose numbers 
were small, whose arms were weak, 
whose spirit faltered, the Grenade force 
planned to deliver a paralyzing blow. 
So obviously expected, the attack per- 
mitted no subtlety; success was staked 
on power. Although General Simpson 
decided against air bombardment in 
favor of starting by night, more than 
2,000 big guns were to pound the enemy 
for forty-five minutes before H-hour. 
Of the four American corps, three were 
to cross the river at H-hour, each with 
two infantry divisions to the fore, on a 
front from Linnich to Dueren, only 
seventeen miles long. The remaining 
corps was to move at H-hour to clear a 
few enemy nests remaining on the west 
bank of the Roer while simulating a 

10 MS # B-811, Fifteenth Army, ig November 
1944-22 February 1945 (General der Infanterie 
Gustav von Zangen) and Operationskarte West, 
Chef WFSt, ss and 23 Feb 45. 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




General von Zangen 



full-blooded crossing north of Heins- 
berg. 

The objective of the first phase of 
operations was to place the Ninth Army 
astride the egg-shaped plateau east of 
Linnich with the army's right flank an- 
chored on the Erft River. Since this in- 
volved a wheel to the north, General 
McLain's XIX Corps on the outer rim 
would make the longest advance, while 
the First Army's VII Corps protected the 
Ninth Army's right flank by establishing 
a bridgehead around Dueren and then 
clearing the bulk of the Hambach For- 
est and gaining the Erft near Elsdorf. 

In the second phase, the Ninth Army 
was Co extend its bridgehead north and 
northwest, with the main job falling to 



OPERATION GRENADE 



143 



General Gillem's XIII Corps. By taking 
the road center of Erkelenz and clearing 
the east bank of the Roer to a point west 
of Erkelenz, the XIII Corps was to open 
the way for an unopposed crossing of 
the river by General Anderson's XVI 
Corps. 

What happened next depended on 
whether conditions favored rapid ma- 
neuver or forced a plodding infantry 
advance. Given slackening resistance 
and firm footing for tanks, General 
Simpson intended to push immediately 
with full strength to envelop Muenchen- 
Gladbach from south and east, then 
drive on to the Rhine. Should the ar- 
mor be roadbound or the enemy stub- 
born, the two corps on the left were to 
make the main effort, rolling up the 
West Wall fortifications as far north as 
Venlo and clearing the big forest lying 
between Roermond and Muenchen- 
Gladbach. With supply routes then 
open from Heinsberg to Roermond, the 
army was to hit Muechen-Gladbach 
from west and south and push on to the 
Rhine. 

Both plans conservatively assumed or- 
ganized resistance throughout the Co- 
logne plain. On the other hand, General 
Simpson added, "If the violence of our 
attack should cause disruption of the 
enemy resistance, each corps will be pre- 
pared to conduct relentless pursuit in 
zone, and phases will be abandoned in 
favor of taking full advantage of our 
opportunity." 20 

All plans were complete in expecta- 
tion of a D-day on 10 February when, 
on the eve of the attack, the Germans 
destroyed the discharge valves on the 



M NUSA Ltr of Instrs 10, 28 Jan 45; Conquer, 
pp. 147-51. 



Roer dams. Not for about twelve days 
would the water in the reservoirs be ex- 
hausted. 21 

Upstream from Dueren, where the 
river's banks are relatively high, the 
worst effect of the flood was to increase 
the current sharply, at some points to 
more than ten miles an hour. Down- 
stream along most of its length, the Roer 
poured over its banks and inundated the 
valley floor. Just north of Linnich where 
the river is normally 25 to 30 yards wide, 
it spread into a lake more than a 
mile wide. More common were inunda- 
tions of 300 to 400 yards. The ground 
on both sides of the flooded floor was 
soft and spongy. While engineers 
watched over the slowly receding river, 
Grenade underwent successive post- 
ponements. 22 

Acting on advice of the engineers, 
General Simpson at last set D-day for 23 
February, one day before the reservoirs 
presumably would be drained. Although 
the river still was in flood, it had re- 
ceded eight to fourteen inches below the 
peak, and the current at few places ex- 
ceeded six miles an hour. By seizing the 
first practicable moment when the river 
might be crossed with reasonable chance 
of success instead of awaiting a return 
to normal, General Simpson hoped to 
achieve some measure of surprise. 23 

In making the attack, leading waves 
were to cross the river in assault boats, 
while follow-up troops were to use foot- 



21 See above, ch. V. 

22 For analysis of the flood, see II Corps Engi- 
neers, Operations in the European Theater, VI; 
NUSA G-2 AAR, Feb 45; XIII Corps G-2 AAR, 
Feb 45; XIX Corps G— 2 Spot Rpt, 14 Feb 45; io2d 
Div G-3 Jnl, 10 Feb 45. 

23 Conquer, pp. 165-66; 104th Div G-2 Periodic 
Rpt 119, 22 Feb 45; 30th Div G-3 Jul, so Feb 45; 
io2d Div G-3 Jul, 22 Feb 45. 



144 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



4 



Bursts of White Phosphorus Shells Light Up the Roer River at Linnich 



bridges that engineers were to begin 
constructing at H-hour. In all divisions 
except the 84th, which was to cross on a 
one-battalion front, the number of as- 
sault boats was insufficient for the first 
wave, so that units had to plan to shut- 
tle or find other means of crossing. Since 
shuttling in frail assault boats might 
break down in the face of a strong cur- 
rent, the 8th Division proposed to make 
motor-driven double-boat ferries of its 
assault boats. Some other units planned 
to rely on cable ferries or LVT's (land 
vehicles, tracked), amphibious tractors 
nicknamed alligators. 



Each assault division in the Ninth 
Army planned to screen its crossing sites, 
either by smoke generators and pots 
placed on the west bank or by phos- 
phorus shells fired across the river by 
chemical mortars. A smoke generator 
company and a chemical mortar battal- 
ion were in support of each corps. In the 
adjacent VII Corps, General Collins 
delegated the decision on using smoke 
to the assault division commanders. 24 

Within each division sector, attached 
corps engineers were to start at H-hour 

24 VII Corps Engineers, Operations in the Euro- 
pean Theater, VI. 



OPERATION GRENADE 



145 



to build at least three vehicular bridges. 
Although the threat posed by the Roer 
dams had passed, each division still was 
to carry five days' supply of rations and 
gasoline against the possibility that 
bridging might be delayed or knocked 
out. To assure ammunition supply 
points beyond the Roer soon after the 
crossings, the XIX Corps attached two 
truck companies to each of its two as- 
sault divisions, while the XIII Corps 
planned to use three companies under 
corps control for the same purpose. 25 

In case bridges went out, LVT's and 
dukws (21/2-ton amphibious trucks) 
were to ferry essential supplies. Al- 
though emergency airdrops probably 
would be unnecessary since the threat 
from the Roer dams had ended, 500 
C-47 transport planes loaded with 
enough supplies to maintain one divi- 
sion in combat for one day remained on 
call. 20 

Challenging the Swollen River 

On the night of 22 February, the 
Grenade force stirred. No sooner was it 
dark than infantrymen began moving 
into cellars as close as possible to the riv- 
er's edge. Engineers started transporting 
boats and bridging equipment to within 
easy carrying distance of the water. Ar- 
tillerymen were careful to fire no more 
than normal concentrations lest the en- 
emy discern from increased fire what 
was afoot. 27 



2B XIX Corps Admin Order 15, 7 Feb 45; XIII 
Corps Flood Plan, 8 Feb 45; XIII Corps G-4 AAR, 
Feb 45. 

29 XIII Corps G-4 AAR and Engineer AAR, Feb 
45; XIX Corps AAR, Sec IV, Feb 45; NUSA G-4 
AAR, Feb 45. 

27 Unless specifically noted, sources tor all com- 
bat actions are official records and combat inter- 
views of units involved. 



The enemy thus far had given no sign 
that he knew the long-expected attack 
was at hand. Although an occasional 
German plane appeared over the flat- 
lands west of the Roer before dark, all 
seemed to be on routine reconnaissance 
or bombing and strafing missions. In- 
coming artillery and mortar shells were 
few. 

In higher German headquarters, at- 
tention still was focused on the Third 
Army's attacks on Bitburg and Trier 
and the First Canadian Army's drive in 
the north. Employing a Canadian corps 
on the left and a British corps on the 
right, Operation Veritable had carried 
approximately seventeen miles from 
jump-off positions along the Dutch 
frontier near Nijmegen, more than a 
third of the distance to final objectives 
along the Rhine upstream from Wesel. 28 

Beginning at 0245 on tne 23d, the 
massed artillery began its thunderous 
bombardment. Forty-five minutes later, 
infantrymen of six divisions lowered as- 
sault boats into the swollen Roer to do 
battle from the first with a treacherous 
current. 

Because the river spread into wide 
inundations both north and south of 
Linnich, the 84th Division (Maj. Gen. 
Alexander R. Boiling) of the XIII Corps 
had to cross at a destroyed highway 
bridge on a one-battalion front within 
the town, where, by contrast, the river 
was still in a narrow channel. (Map 



VI) The first wave got over with rela- 



tive ease. "I really don't know whether 

28 For operations o£ the First Canadian Army, see 
Col. C. P. Stacey, The Victory Campaign — Opera- 
tions in Northwest Europe, itf44-*945t "Official 
History of the Canadian Army in the Second 
World War," vol. Ill (Ottawa: The Queen's 
Printer and Controller of Stationery, i960), pp. 
460-526. 



OPERATION GRENADE 



147 



the enemy fired any shots at us or not," 
said ist Lt. Richard Hawkins of the 
334th Infantry's Company A. "Our own 
guns going off all around us . . . 
drowned out all other sounds." 29 Al- 
though the current hurled two boats far 
downstream, the bigger problem was a 
drift of almost all boats some seventy- 
five yards downstream, making it diffi- 
cult in the darkness to get them back to 
the crossing site for the second wave. 

Engineers beginning at H-hour to 
build three footbridges ran into diffi- 
culties with all three. One was almost 
completed when bypassed Germans 
opened fire with automatic weapons, 
making it impossible to anchor the 
bridge on the east bank. Another had 
no sooner been completed when an as- 
sault boat plunged downstream from 
the neighboring division's sector and 
knocked it out. A direct hit on a cable 
by an enemy shell knocked out a third 
just as it too was almost completed. 

The follow-up battalion had to cross 
by shuttle with the few assault boats 
that could be retrieved. When one foot- 
bridge finally completed just before 
noon stayed in, the engineers aban- 
doned attempts to build others and con- 
centrated on vehicular bridges. An in- 
fantry support bridge was ready for light 
vehicles by 1730, but a treadway bridge, 
finished three hours later, had to be 
closed when a German plane strafed and 
damaged it. Only after more than four 
hours were spent on repairs was the 
treadway again ready for traffic; men of 
the 84th Division thus spent all of D- 
day on the east bank without tank or 
tank destroyer support. 

29 Theodore Draper, The 84th Infantry Division 
in the Battle for Germany (New York: The Viking 
Press, 1946), p. 145. An excellent unit history. 



In the sector of the io2d Division 
(Maj. Gen. Frank A. Keating) on the 
right wing of the XIII Corps upstream 
from Linnich, two regiments made the 
assault. As in the 84th's sector, fire from 
the east bank was meager, partly because 
a patrol had crossed thirty minutes 
before H-hour and knocked out four 
machine guns in front of the 407th In- 
fantry. Near misses from mortar fire up- 
set several craft carrying men of the 
405th Infantry, but rubber life vests 
saved the men from drowning. 

Again it was the second wave that ran 
into most difficulty, for the current car- 
ried many of the boats used by the first 
wave far downstream where they impo- 
tently sat out successive stages of the 
assault. When the follow-up battalion 
of the 405th Infantry reached the river, 
the men could find at first only two 
boats. After an intensive search turned 
up a few more, one company got across. 
Other men meanwhile tried LVT's, but 
so muddy was the far bank that these 
craft could not get far enough up for the 
men to disembark. As in the 84th Divi- 
sion's sector, an LVT went out of con- 
trol, crashed into a partially completed 
infantry support bridge, and sent parts 
of the bridge careening downstream. 

The struggle to build bridges was for 
the io2d Division also a discouraging 
task. When engineers completed the first 
footbridge for the 405th Infantry just 
before daylight, German artillery 
promptly knocked it out. They put in 
another about the same time for the 
407th Infantry, but enemy shelling was 
too intense for the infantry to use it. 
Spattered by shell fragments, the bridge 
spanned the river for three hours before 
a tree fell on it, snapped a cable, and 
set the pontoons adrift. Shortly after 



148 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Derelict Assault Boats Near Linnich 



midday the engineers at last opened a 
workable footbridge and a support 
bridge suitable for light vehicles. 

The infantry support bridge had a 
short life; no sooner had the 407th's 
antitank company with its towed 57-mm. 
guns crossed than a shell knocked it out. 
Getting sufficient antitank support to 
the far bank became a major concern, 
for by noon signs of impending counter- 
attack had begun to develop in front of 
the io2d Division. With the infantry 
support bridge finally operating again 
about 2100, General Keating ordered 



every 57-mm. gun in the division to be 
towed across immediately. 

Although other engineers opened a 
treadway bridge about the same time, 
just as a company of tank destroyers 
started to cross three low-flying German 
planes knocked out the bridge. Another 
treadway was completed before mid- 
night, but before tank destroyers could 
use it trucks loaded with rubble had to 
cross and build up a soggy exit route on 
the far bank. 30 It was well after mid- 

30 Maj. Allan H. Mick, ed., With the I02d Infantry Division 
Through Germany (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1947), 
p. 129. 



OPERATION GRENADE 



149 




Smoke Pots Along the Roer Near Dueren 



night before tank destroyers in appre- 
ciable numbers began to move beyond 
the river. 

Two miles upstream to the south in 
the sector of General McLairfs XIX 
Corps the swollen river proved as big an 
obstacle to successful assault as it had 
for the XIII Corps. There the 29th Di- 
vision was to cross around Juelich, the 
30th Division three miles farther up- 
stream. 

Both assault regiments of the 29th 
Division (Maj. Gen. Charles H. Ger- 
hardt) faced special crossing problems. 
North of Juelich, no bridges were to be 



built for the 115th Infantry because the 
flooded Roer was more than 400 yards 
wide. Both the first wave and the follow- 
up units were to cross in assault boats 
and LVT's, with additional forces cross- 
ing later over bridges to be built at Jue- 
lich for the 175th Infantry. 

The 175th, on the other hand, was to 
depend almost entirely on bridges, 
since the river alongside the east bank 
town of Juelich flows between high 
banks. Half an hour before the end of 
the artillery preparation, two 25-man 
patrols were to cross in assault boats to 
stake out small holdings where engi- 



OPERATION GRENADE 



151 



neers, working under a smoke screen, 
could anchor footbridges over which the 
assault battalions were to cross. 

Despite fire from German machine 
guns, one patrol got across the river. Of 
two boats carrying the other patrol, one 
capsized and the current washed the 
other far downstream. 

Working at the site of a destroyed 
highway bridge, engineers completed a 
footbridge in less than an hour. Al- 
though an assault boat loaded with men 
crashed into the bridge and knocked it 
out, engineers had it back in service by 
0600. The first infantrymen then crossed 
on a dead run. Within another hour, 
two more footbridges were in. 

Previously undetected mines on west- 
bank approaches to the 115th Infantry's 
crossing site meantime threatened to de- 
lay the other assault. A tank maneuver- 
ing into a supporting position struck a 
mine, blocking the road leading to the 
river, and a tankdozer trying to remove 
the disabled tank set off another mine. 
The leading LVT bringing troops to 
the site also hit a mine, blocking the 
column of LVT's behind it. Officers on 
the scene directed the infantry to dis- 
mount and join other units crossing by 
assault boat. The mishap delayed the 
first wave by twenty minutes, but the 
LVT's soon found a bypass around the 
disabled vehicles. 

From this point German fire added a 
new dimension to the problems facing 
the engineers. Long-range machine gun 
fire played on one footbridge for much 
of the morning. A mortar shell struck 
another while stretcher bearers were 
crossing with a wounded man. 31 Two 



31 Joseph H. Ewing, 29 Let's Go! A History of 
the 29th Infantry Division in World War 11 



artillery hits on a partially completed 
treadway bridge prompted engineers to 
shift the site a few hundred yards up- 
stream where houses in Juelich provided 
a measure of concealment. Tanks and 
bulldozers began to cross in late after- 
noon, the bulldozers to clear paths 
through the rubble that air and artillery 
bombardment had made of the town. 

Upstream from Juelich, the 30th Di- 
vision (General Hobbs) faced perhaps 
the most forbidding stretch of waterline 
along the entire front. At only two 
points, both on the division's right wing, 
was the river considered at all narrow 
enough for crossings. 

Going the 29th Division one better, 
the 119th Infantry near the village of 
Schophoven sent a patrol of twenty-five 
riflemen to the east bank more than an 
hour before start of the artillery prepara- 
tion. With the patrol providing a screen, 
engineers were to begin work on a foot- 
bridge at the same time the preliminary 
shelling began. 

At 0215 engineers followed the patrol 
across in assault boats, dragging behind 
them prefabricated duckboard bridges 
to be used to get the infantry across a 
canal that at this point parallels the 
Roer. (A patrol had discovered only 
forty-eight hours before the attack that 
the canal was too deep for fording.) As 
the big artillery bombardment began, a 
battalion of infantry started crossing in 
assault boats. By the time the last shells 
fell, a footbridge was in place and the 
rest of the regiment was racing across. 

The 120th Infantry a few hundred 
yards upstream had no such success. Al- 
though the original plan for crossing had 



(Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1948), p. 
233. This is an excellent unit history. 



152 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Footbridge Across the Roer Serves Men of the 30TH Division 



been much the same, a patrol only the 
night before had discovered that the 
current was too swift at that point for 
assault boats. The engineers quickly 
made plans for two cable ferries, but 
they were able to fasten a rope on the 
far bank for only one. Almost two hours 
before the artillery preparation began, 
a company of infantrymen began to pull 
themselves across in rubber boats, but 
the current proved too swift even for 
that method. Only thirty men reached 
the east bank. 

Engineers succeeded finally in fasten- 
ing an anchor cable for a footbridge just 



before the preparation fires began. Yet 
from that moment everything seemed to 
go wrong. German artillery fire cut the 
first cable. A second snagged in debris 
and snapped. A mortar shell cut a third. 
A fourth held long enough for engi- 
neers to construct about fifty feet of 
bridge before the current snapped the 
cable and the bridge buckled. Doggedly, 
the engineers tried again. This time the 
cable stayed, but the coming of daylight 
brought such increased German shelling 
that darkness had fallen on D-day be- 
fore they got a footbridge in. 

The 120th Infantry had resorted to 



OPERATION GRENADE 



153 



LVT's to get the bulk of two companies 
across the Roer not long after the official 
H-hour of 0330, while the rest of the 
regiment later in the day crossed on the 
footbridge constructed for the 119th In- 
fantry. The problem of getting the in- 
fantry across at last solved, all hands 
could turn to a treadway bridge that 
other engineers already had started. Not 
until midnight was this bridge com- 
pleted; men of the 30th Division, like 
those of the 84th, had spent all of D-day 
without tank or tank destroyer support. 

As costly as German shelling proved 
to be in the 30th Division's sector and 
elsewhere, it would have been consider- 
ably greater had it not been for the use 
of smoke. The 29th and 30th Divisions 
used both smoke pots and chemical 
smoke generators. The 30th Division be- 
gan its screen before dawn and kept it 
up, not for twelve hours as planned, but 
for thirty-three, in itself testimony to 
the effectiveness of the screen. The 29th 
Division discontinued its screen after 
less than two hours because it interfered 
with directing artillery fire. The other 
two divisions, the 84th and i02d, de- 
pended primarily on smoke pots em- 
placed along the west bank, although 
both used white phosphorus shells fired 
by chemical mortars to assist the first 
waves. The i02d Division maintained 
one smoke screen as a feint at a point 
where no crossing was contemplated. 
The smoke drew enemy fire while at the 
true crossing site nearby, unscreened, 
scarcely any shells fell. 

The First Day on the East Bank 

The Roer was unquestionably diffi- 
cult. In the face of a capable, determined 
enemy on the east bank, it could have 



proven far more costly. Fortunately for 
the eventual outcome of Operation 
Grenade, the enemy in general was 
neither capable nor determined. 

Opposite Linnich, the 84th Division 
had the good fortune to strike almost 
astride a German corps boundary. The 
lone unit in the assault, the 334th In- 
fantry's 1st Battalion, hit the extreme 
north flank of the 59th Infantry Divi- 
sion of Koechling's LXXXI Corps, tak- 
ing the Germans by surprise and occupy- 
ing the village of Koerrenzig before day- 
light. At that point the 1st Battalion 
turned north in keeping with the mis- 
sion of clearing enough of the east bank 
of the Roer for the neighboring XVI 
Corps to cross unopposed. In the proc- 
ess the battalion began to roll up from 
the flank defenses of the 183d Infantry 
Division of Crasemann's XII SS Corps. 
By nightfall the 1st Battalion was ap- 
proaching the crossroads village of Baal, 
three miles from the crossing site, while 
the 335th Infantry came in to seal the 
334th's flank to the east. 

Baal was one of only three places 
where the Germans on D-day mustered 
counterattacks. As night was approach- 
ing, a battalion of the 183d Division 
supported by several tanks or assault 
guns drove south out of Baal at the same 
time men of the 334th Infantry were 
trying to break into the village. Ameri- 
can artillery and eager Thunderbolts of 
the XXIX Tactical Air Command broke 
up the enemy thrust before the opposing 
forces could actually clash on the 
ground. Occupying Baal proved rela- 
tively simple after that, though just be- 
fore midnight three understrength Ger- 
man battalions struck with considerable 
verve. For a while the conflict was in- 
tense on the periphery of the village, 



154 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



but by morning small arms and artillery 
fire had driven the Germans off. 32 

The day's strongest German counter- 
action developed to the south against 
the io2d Division. There the 407th In- 
fantry on the north wing had taken the 
enemy in the village of Gevenich by 
surprise, seizing 160 prisoners, and in 
the afternoon occupied an adjacent vil- 
lage to the north. The 405th Infantry 
on the south wing entered Tetz, south- 
ernmost of the day's objectives, against 
minor opposition; but because of diffi- 
culties at the crossing sites, it was 
midafternoon before the regimental 
commander, Col. Laurin L. Williams, 
could send a force northeastward against 
two other objectives, Boslar, two miles 
from the Roer, and Hompesch. 

Despite a 20-minute artillery prepara- 
tion fired by fourteen battalions, the 
men of the 405th Infantry had gotten 
no farther than Boslar when darkness 
came. Something had infused new spirit 
into the defending troops of the 59th 
Division, whose performance elsewhere 
on D-day had been, at best, lackluster. 
That something was an impending 
counterattack, signs of which the Amer- 
icans had been detecting since just be- 
fore noon. 

As the broad outlines of the Ninth 
Army's attack emerged during the morn- 
ing of 23 February, the Army Group B 
commander, Field Marshal Model, had 
acted swiftly to place his reserves, the 
oth and nth Panzer Divisions, at the 
disposal of the Fifteenth Army. Al- 
though Model had intended to employ 
the two divisions together under an ad 



32 MS # B-812, Fifteenth Army, 23-28 February 
1945 (General der Infanterie Gustav von Zangen) ; 
Draper, The 84th Division in the Battle for Ger- 
many, pp. 151-54. 



hoc corps commanded by a tank special- 
ist, Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein, not 
enough of the nth Panzer Division had 
yet arrived from the Saar-Moselle tri- 
angle to justify that arrangement. The 
Fifteenth Army commander, General 
von Zangen, early decided to attach in- 
crements of the two divisions as they 
arrived to Koechling's LXXXI Corps. 
Although Zangen had yet to determine 
the exact location of the American main 
effort, he deduced from analysis of cross- 
ing sites along the Roer that it probably 
was directed against the LXXXI 
Corps. 33 

While attachment of the panzer divi- 
sions augured well for the future, it 
would be at least the next day before 
any part of the divisions could arrive. 
For immediate counterattack, the 
LXXXI Corps commander, General 
Koechling, had to depend on his own 
slender resources. These were two infan- 
try battalions, one each from his two 
divisions, plus remnants of two separate 
tank battalions and an understrength 
assault gun brigade. 

Returning the infantry battalions to 
division control, Koechling gave each 
division a company of the assault gun 
brigade with twelve to fourteen 75-mm. 
guns and smaller portions of the two 
tank battalions. The 59th Division 
then was to strike toward Gevenich, the 
363d Infantry Division toward Boslar 
and Tetz. 

The io2d Division commander, Gen- 
eral Keating, meanwhile reacted to the 
indications of impending counterattack 

33 German material from MSS # C-020 
(Schramm); # B-812 (Zangen); # B-576, LXXXI 
Corps, 25 January-21 March 1945 (General der 
Infanterie Friedrich Koechling); # B-053, Corps 
Bayerlein, 11 February-5 March 1945 (General- 
leutant Fritz Bayerlein). 



OPERATION GRENADE 



155 



by ordering his reserve, the 406th Infan- 
try, into position south and east of Tetz. 
The 405th and 406th Infantry Regi- 
ments then formed a defensive arc ex- 
tending from high ground between 
Gevenich and Boslar, through Boslar, 
and back to the river south of Tetz. The 
407th Infantry on the north continued 
to hold Gevenich and the next village 
to the north. Confident of his strength 
in infantry, General Keating felt keenly 
his lack of antitank support on the east 
bank. It was this concern that through 
the afternoon and evening punctuated 
the engineers' futile efforts to keep 
bridges functioning across the Roer in 
hope of getting tanks and tank destroy- 
ers across. 

As it turned out, the defenders at 
both Gevenich and Boslar had to rely 
primarily on artillery fire and bazookas. 
Although the German thrust at Geve- 
nich proved relatively weak and caused 
little concern, the Germans at Boslar 
attacked at least seven times. The first 
thrust hit just before 2100, employing 
a mixed force of about 20 assault guns 
and tanks accompanied by about 150 
infantry. While American artillery fire 
was dispersing tanks and infantry before 
they reached Boslar, some of the infan- 
try bypassed the village and penetrated 
the lines of a battalion of the 406th In- 
fantry. A reserve rifle company sealed 
off that penetration. 

In subsequent thrusts, some infantry 
and tanks got into the streets of Boslar. 
It was a night, said the commander of 
the defending battalion, Lt. Col. Eric E. 
Bischoff, of "indescribable confu- 
sion." 34 Infantrymen accounted for four 



Combat interview with Bischoff. 



Mark V tanks with bazookas. Still the 
Germans persisted. 

What the Americans reckoned as the 
fourth try brought the gravest crisis. 
Three hours before dawn on 24 Febru- 
ary, tanks and infantry swarmed into 
the village. While the Americans hud- 
dled in cellars, forward observers called 
down artillery fire on their own posi- 
tions. By daylight the Germans had 
fallen back, and a count revealed a sur- 
prisingly low total of thirty American 
casualties. 

In the sector of the XIX Corps, the 
Germans launched no counterattacks 
and in general proffered no stiffer pas- 
sive resistance than against the XHI 
Corps. The defending troops were from 
the same 363d Division that gave the 
i02d Division such a hard time at Bos- 
lar. 

The 1 15th Infantry, on the north wing 
of the 29th Division, had no trouble 
taking the village of Broich, but when 
the men moved out toward high ground 
to the northeast on which they intended 
to anchor the division's bridgehead, they 
encountered grazing fire from automatic 
weapons emplaced in farm houses and 
entrenchments on the reverse slope. Not 
until darkness came and the men made 
a stealthy night attack was this position 
secured. 

The 175th Infantry in the meantime 
had run into less resistance in Juelich 
than expected, but clearing Germans 
from the debris of the destroyed town 
remained a slow process. By nightfall 
Juelich was in hand except for the Cita- 
del, a medieval fortress surrounded by a 
moat. According to plan, the assault 
companies left the Citadel for follow-up 
troops to clear. 

In the adjacent 30th Division, the ad- 



156 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



vance proceeded apace, despite the prob- 
lems inherent in crossing at a wide part 
of the flooded Roer. A battalion of the 
119th Infantry on the north was in the 
first village rooting Germans from cel- 
lars less than fifteen minutes after the 
artillery preparation lifted. Soon after 
dawn the same battalion cleared another 
village to the north. 

Leading companies of the 120th In- 
fantry had harder going because of an 
extensive antipersonnel minefield in a 
patch of woods near the village of Kraut- 
hausen. The 2d Battalion took at least 
seventy-five casualties in the woods but 
still jumped off before dawn against 
Krauthausen and the neighboring vil- 
lage to the south. One company employ- 
ing marching fire took the latter village 
at the cost of one killed and two 
wounded, while two companies envel- 
oped Krauthausen from south and 
north. 

Both regiments then used follow-up 
units to push out to slightly higher 
ground to the east. The 119th Infantry 
also sent a battalion against a village at 
the edge of the Hambach Forest and 
took it by midafternoon. 

Since the 30th Division would be on 
the outside of the Ninth Army's wheel 
to the north with the farthest to go of 
the four assault divisions, the com- 
mander, General Hobbs, decided to keep 
going through the night. Reserve bat- 
talions of both assault regiments moved 
northeastward before midnight against 
Hambach and Niederzier, the only vil- 
lages remaining in the division's sector 
short of the Hambach Forest. Distant 
American searchlights bouncing light off 
clouds made twilight of the darkness. 35 



Among American units, the Ninth Army had 



Five battalions of artillery fired at 
maximum rate to help men of the 1 19th 
Infantry into Hambach. They timed 
their concentrations to allow the infan- 
try five minutes to cross on a dead run 
from the line of departure to the first 
houses. The village fell with only a few 
shots fired. Most of a 126-man German 
garrison had to be routed from cellars 
where they had retired to sit out the 
American shelling. 

The scheme of maneuver and results 
in the attack on Niederzier were similar. 
When shells armed with proximity fuzes 
exploded over open trenches west of the 
village the Germans "just got up and 
left." 36 The 120th Infantry lost not- a 
man. 

With some relatively unimportant ex- 
ceptions, the XIX Corps as dawn came 
held all its planned D-day bridgehead; 
yet difficulties could still lie ahead in the 
Hambach Forest, where the Germans 
well might elect to stand, or might arise 
from an open corps right flank. The un- 
protected right flank had developed be- 
cause the First Army's VII Corps, 
charged with protecting the flank, had 
been having the hardest fight of all to 
get across the Roer and stay there. 

The VII Corps at Dueren 

As protection for the Ninth Army's 
wheel, General Collins's VII Corps of 
the First Army had to make the deepest 
penetration of all, to the Erft River be- 
yond Elsdorf, thirteen miles from the 
Roer at Dueren, and do the job with its 



pioneered in use of battlefield illumination during 
the drive to the Roer in November. See Mac- 
Donald, The Siegfried Line Campaign. 

38 Combat interview with Maj. Cris McCullough, 
ExecO, 1st Bn, lao Inf. 



OPERATION GRENADE 



157 



own right flank exposed for at least two 
days until another corps to the south 
joined the attack. The zone of the VII 
Corps further included two obstacles 
expected to be strongly contested: ruins 
of the town of Dueren and most of the 
Hambach Forest. 

As in the corps of the Ninth Army, the 
VII Corps was to employ two divisions 
to assault the river line, the 104th (Maj. 
Gen. Terry de la Mesa Allen) on the 
left, the 8th (Maj. Gen. William G. 
Weaver) on the right. 37 Because Dueren 
was the hub of communications to east 
and northeast, Collins divided the town 
between the two divisions. The infan- 
trymen first were to establish a bridge- 
head anchored on high ground about 
four miles from the Roer, from the vil- 
lage of Oberzier in the north to Stock- 
heim in the south. At that point Collins 
intended to send the 4th Cavalry Group 
to clear the Hamback Forest while the 
3d Armored Division passed through the 
infantry to gain the Erft. 

To even a greater degree than the 
rest of the Grenade force, the VII 
Corps would find the swollen Roer the 
biggest obstacle to achieving D-day ob- 
jectives. Because the current everywhere 
might prove too swift for footbridges, 
all the assault infantry were to cross by 
boat, each regiment with two battalions 
abreast. A platoon of engineers with fif- 
teen or sixteen boats was assigned to 
each rifle company in the first wave, 
while corps engineers held sixty boats in 

37 Unofficial histories of these two divisions — Leo 
A. Hoegh and Howard J. Doyle, Timberwolf 
Tracks (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1946), 
and Lt. Marc F. Griesgach, Combat History of the 
Eighth Infantry Division in World War II (Baton 
Rouge: Army and Navy Publishing Co., 1945) — are 
useful more for color than for following the action 
in detail. 



reserve. At the last minute, both divi- 
sion commanders decided against using 
smoke lest it hinder artillery observa- 
tion and confuse infantrymen moving 
through build-up urban areas on the 
east bank. 

The bulk of the first waves of the 
415th Infantry, on the north wing of the 
104th Division, got across with little 
difficulty, although the current and 
small arms fire turned one company 
back. Crossing opposite the northern 
fringe of Dueren, the 413th Infantry's 
1st Battalion had more trouble. After 
the first company had crossed without 
opposition, German artillery and ma- 
chine guns opened fire. Eight boats of 
Company C stuck on the top of a check 
dam and then upset. The rest of the 1st 
Battalion shifted to the 415th Infantry's 
sector to cross. 

By daylight German artillery fire be- 
gan to make the engineers' job all but 
impossible. Northwest of the Dueren 
suburb of Birkesdorf, work began on an 
infantry support bridge at 0415, but fif- 
teen minutes later artillery and mortar 
shells destroyed much of the equipment 
and killed or wounded nineteen men. 
Although the engineers persisted, their 
first success came only after nightfall 
and at a new site. 

Upstream opposite Birkesdorf another 
group of engineers, working under 
seemingly constant fire, had completed 
about 160 feet of a support bridge by 
1300 when an enemy artillery piece, ap- 
parently by indirect fire using long base 
observation methods, got the range and 
scored several direct hits. The men hur- 
riedly laid out smoke pots, but through 
the smoke the German, shells still came 
in on target. Much of the bridge was 
destroyed. 



OPERATION GRENADE 



159 



At three other sites artillery and often 
rifle and machine gun fire prevented 
engineers even from starting construc- 
tion until after nightfall on D-day. All 
countermeasures failed; counterbattery 
fire, smoke, direct fire by tanks on ma- 
chine gun positions, even gradual expan- 
sion of the bridgehead — none of these 
during 23 February checked the deadly 
accuracy of the enemy fire. The first 
bridge was not open to traffic until mid- 
night. The 415th Infantry at the only 
feasible ferry site managed to get three 
57-mm. antitank guns across, but those 
remained during D-day the only sup- 
porting weapons east of the river. 

Fortunately, the enemy's 12th Folks 
Grenadier Division of Krueger's LVIII 
Panzer Corps failed to follow through 
with determined resistance once the in- 
fantry got across. The 415th Infantry 
took two villages en route to Oberzier 
without difficulty and by midafternoon 
had buttoned up along the Dueren- 
Juelich railroad, the D-day objective 
line. The 413th Infantry met only light 
resistance at first in Birkesdorf and 
Dueren, although enemy machine guns 
and artillery were increasingly trouble- 
some as the day wore on. The regiment 
nevertheless cleared most of the north- 
ern half of Dueren by dark. In Birkes- 
dorf the men captured an entire battal- 
ion of the 2jth Volks Grenadier Regi- 
ment, complete with staff. "In compar- 
ison with its earlier achievements," the 
Fifteenth Army commander was to note 
later, "the 12th Volks Grenadier Divi- 
sion had very much disappointed the 
command during the initial defensive 
battle." 38 

More precarious by far through the 



MS # B-814 (Zangen). 



day and into the night was the position 
of the 8th Division upstream to the 
south. Plagued by an open right flank 
and daylong observation from foothills 
of the Eifel highlands, the 8th had the 
roughest D-day experience of all. 

The leading 13th and 28th Infantry 
Regiments were to cross in assault boats 
and in double assault boats driven by 
outboard motors. Cable ferries and foot- 
bridges were to be put in as soon as pos- 
sible for the reserve companies. 

Fifty minutes before the scheduled H- 
hour of 0330, only five minutes after the 
artillery preparation began, the 28th In- 
fantry's 3d Battalion was to open the 
assault with the mission of cutting en- 
emy communications to the south and 
southeast by taking Stockheim. No en- 
emy fire opposed the 3d Battalion's cross- 
ing, but the swift river current caused 
trouble enough. While about three-fifths 
of the two leading companies got across, 
the current swept the rest downstream. 
Even many of those who made it lost 
their weapons in swamped or capsized 
boats. Fortunate it was that the crossing 
took the Germans by surprise; twenty- 
three rose up from riverside trenches 
and surrendered. The prisoners' rifles 
served the men who had lost their own 
weapons in good stead. Behind a rolling 
barrage of white phosphorus fired by a 
company of the 87th Chemical Battalion, 
the assault companies continued to the 
edge of woods overlooking Stockheim, 
there to await the rest of the battalion 
before seizing the village. 

The 3d Battalion's crossing was the 
only real success the 8th Division could 
report. Almost without exception the 
units that began to cross at H-hour 
found one difficulty piled upon another. 

In the cold, damp night air, men of 



160 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



the 28th Infantry's other assault battal- 
ion, the 1st, could start none of the 
motors on their six power boats. The 
two lead companies then secured ten 
assault boats each and tried to paddle 
across. In the first company out, five 
boats made it, landing forty men on the 
east bank. The other five boats 
swamped. The next company lost all ten 
boats, sunk or destroyed by enemy fire. 
The remainder of the battalion pulled 
back to reorganize and wait for a foot- 
bridge. 

The reserve 2d Battalion had scarcely 
better luck. Company F in the lead was 
supposed to cross in the boats used by 
the 3d Battalion, but only half of those 
returned from the first crossing and they 
had to transport the 3d Battalion's 
follow-up company. Eventually the men 
of Company F rounded up seventeen 
boats and paddled themselves across. Al- 
though most of the men reached the far 
side, all their boats swamped or over- 
turned. Some 140 men who assembled 
on the east bank about 0630 had 30 rifles 
among them. Hardly had they begun 
moving southward toward their objec- 
tive, a village close by the river, when 
heavy shelling from upriver and small 
arms fire from the village tumbled them 
into abandoned German trenches, 
where they remained under fire the rest 
of the day. They stood alone, for the 
rest of the 2d Battalion was stranded on 
the west bank without boats and would 
not get across until the next morning. 

The footbridge for which the 1st Bat- 
talion commander waited never got 
built. A combination of enemy shelling 
and the swift current compelled the en- 
gineers to abandon the project. In the 
middle of the afternoon the battalion 
began a shuttle system, ten men pad- 



dling over, five bringing the boat back. 
Two companies crossed in that manner. 
The rest of the battalion began crossing 
after dark by a cable ferry. By 2130 that 
night the 2d Battalion was at last assem- 
bled east of the river. 

For the 13th Infantry, in the mean- 
time, almost everything went wrong 
from the first. The two leading battal- 
ions were supposed to cross in fourteen 
double assault boats powered by out- 
board motors. Near a destroyed high- 
way bridge at Dueren, eighteen men of 
Company I actually landed in this fash- 
ion on the east bank. At the same time, 
Company K came under intense ma- 
chine gun fire. One boat overturned.- On 
all the others the motors failed, although 
the men in one boat succeeded in pad- 
dling across. Only thirty-six men of the 
3d Battalion made it. Two platoons of 
Company I arrived by cable ferry later 
in the day. That was the sum total of 
the 3d Battalion's assault. 

It was even worse for the 13 th Infan- 
try's 2d Battalion farther south. Short 
rounds of white phosphorus shells fired 
by American artillery knocked out four 
of company E's boats before the crossing 
began. Although ten boats were 
launched, all swamped. The mishaps 
reduced the three rifle platoons to fifty- 
six men and thoroughly disorganized 
the company. 

Company F put twelve men over the 
river under 1st Lt. E. W. Coleman, but 
when motors on other boats failed and 
the men found they could not handle as- 
sault boats in the current, the rest of the 
company stayed on the west bank. Lieu- 
tenant Coleman's dozen men fought 
their way into a factory, capturing 
twelve Germans in the process, but 
other Germans promptly counterat- 



OPERATION GRENADE 



161 



tacked and besieged the small force the 
rest of the day. Coleman lost the pris- 
oners and half his own men; he and six 
others managed to hold out, even though 
all were wounded. 

As German fire became more and 
more intense, the 2d Battalion aban- 
doned all efforts to cross. Although di- 
visional artillery and the 4.2-inch mor- 
tars of the 87th Chemical Battalion 
smoked all known enemy observation 
points, neither the quantity nor accuracy 
of German artillery or mortar fire ap- 
preciably diminished. 

The 3d Battalion continued trying to 
cross throughout the day but without 
much success. Ferries, which proved to 
be the only feasible way of conquering 
the current, were in operation only a 
few minutes before artillery or mortar 
shells severed the cables. By noon all 
ferries had ceased to operate, and the 
supporting company of the 12 th Engi- 
neer Combat Battalion was down to 
eight men. Only with the coming of 
darkness did the harassed engineers and 
infantrymen gain any respite, but by 
midnight the 13th Infantry still had only 
four complete companies and elements 
of two others east of the Roer. These 
succeeded in pushing only about 400 
yards beyond the river into the heaps of 
rubble that represented the southern 
half- of Dueren. 

Thus it was that the 28th Infantry's 
3d Battalion, which had reached the 
woods line overlooking Stockheim, was 
the only unit of the 8th Division that 
came near accomplishing its D-day mis- 
sion. That even this battalion, consid- 
erably understrength and inadequately 
armed, had made any progress had to be 
credited chiefly to the nature of German 
resistance. Having all but smashed the 



crossing with the aid of a rampaging 
current and the fire of a supporting 
volks artillery corps, neither the 12th 
Volks Grenadier Division at Dueren nor 
a weak 353d Infantry Division south of 
the town made any move to counterat- 
tack the disorganized bridgehead forces. 

Through it all, attached corps engi- 
neers struggling to construct five vehic- 
ular bridges across the Roer had run 
into the same problem of shelling and 
current that beset those engineers who 
tried to build footbridges or cable fer- 
ries. At most sites the men worked in 
vain even to get an anchor cable across. 
At a site selected for an infantry support 
bridge for the 13th Infantry, enemy 
shells came in at an estimated rate of 
125 an hour throughout D-day and into 
the night. The following day as the rate 
of fire increased to an estimated 200 
rounds an hour, the engineers aban- 
doned the site. 

Although fire at that particular site 
was exceptionally severe, it was heavy 
enough at all bridge sites to deny any 
successful construction during D-day. 
The first bridge to be completed in the 
8th Division's sector was a Bailey bridge 
put in on the masonry piers of the de- 
stroyed main highway bridge into Due- 
ren. That span was open to traffic on 
the morning of 24 February. No others 
opened until the 25th. In constructing 
nine bridges for the 8th and 104th Divi- 
sions, engineers of the VII Corps in- 
curred a total of 154 casualties, of which 
8 were killed and 1 was missing. 

The experience of the 8th Division 
revealed strikingly the extent to which 
the enemy depended on the flooded 
Roer covered by preregistered artillery 
and mortar fire to stop the attack. To 
that kind of opposition the 8th Division 



162 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



was particularly vulnerable. The divi- 
sion's crossings were made at points 
where steep banks confined the river to 
its normal course and where the river 
emerged from a torrential descent 
through a twisting gorge from the high- 
land reservoirs. The current in conse- 
quence was probably at least twice as 
swift as in the lower and broader reaches 
downstream from Dueren. The crossings 
also took place under the shadow of high 
ground from which the enemy could 
command the entire river valley around 
Dueren. 

The First Day's Results 

Despite the 8th Division's problems, 
the great hammerblow of Grknadk 
when viewed as a whole had effectively 
crushed the enemy. With contingents of 
six divisions on the east bank, there 
could be no real doubt henceforth of 
the outcome. The deep thrust of the 
84th Division in the north as far as Baal 
and the advance of the 30th Division in 
the center into Hambach and Nieder- 
zier, more than two miles east of the 
Roer, made it particularly evident that 
Grenade had irreparably torn the en- 
emy's river line. 

On 24 February, barring unforeseen 
developments on the German side, all 



the Ninth Army's divisions were to ex- 
pand their footholds on the east bank 
and begin the wheel to the north, while 
the VII Corps strengthened its admit- 
tedly weak flank protection. The only 
major change in plan was made late on 
23 February upon the recommendation 
of General Gillem, commander of the 
XIII Corps, and General Anderson, 
commander of the uncommitted XVI 
Corps. Noting the quick success of the 
84th Division, the two commanders 
agreed that Anderson need not wait to 
cross the Roer until Gillem had cleared 
the east bank as far north as Erkelenz; 
instead the XVI Corps might begin 
crossing as early as the following day, as 
soon as the 84th Division had taken the 
next village downstream from Baal. 39 

If the Roer crossing had proven ex- 
pensive in terms of bridging equipment 
and assault craft, it had been relatively 
economical in what mattered most — 
men's lives. The entire Ninth Army lost 
92 killed, 61 missing, and 913 wounded, 
a total of just over a thousand. The VII 
Corps incurred comparatively heavier 
losses: 66 killed, 35 missing, and 280 
wounded, a total of 381. 40 



38 XIII Corps AAR, Feb 45. 
10 12th AGp, G-i Daily Sum, Master File, 1 Jan- 
38 Feb 45. 



CHAPTER IX 



Ninth Army to the Rhine 



On the planning sheets, D plus 1 in 
Operation Grenade (24 February) was 
a day for consolidating the bridgeheads 
and adding strength beyond the Roer. 
Despite some interference at bridges by 
German artillery and ninety-seven futile 
sorties by German aircraft, including 
some by the new jets, the plans would 
be accomplished with relative ease. 
While antiaircraft gunners were taking 
advantage of the rare opportunity to do 
what they were trained for and were 
knocking down eighteen of the planes, 
bridgehead strength increased from six- 
teen to thirty-eight battalions of infan- 
try, and armored support reached all 
divisions. 

In addition, D plus 1 was a day for 
maneuver. The Ninth Army's General 
Simpson was anxious to get started on 
the pivot to the north. This meant that 
both the XIII and XIX Corps were to 
thrust forward their right wings. It 
meant also that in the process each corps 
would develop an open right flank. 

Odds still were that the XIX Corps 
on the south might have the most trou- 
ble both because of the delays experi- 
enced on D-day by the First Army's VII 
Corps and because of the invitation to 
counterattack inherent in the existence 
of the Hambach Forest. Yet the concern 
proved chimerical; the Germans simply 
had nothing to counterattack with. 

Even though almost the entire gth 



Panzer Division arrived in the Fifteenth 
Army's sector during the day, the first 
unit of the division would be able to 
enter the line only after nightfall. Fur- 
thermore, so powerful was the American 
blow that General von Zangen would 
have to use the division piecemeal in a 
futile effort to hold the line rather than 
to counterattack. In any event, with only 
twenty-nine tanks and sixteen assault 
guns the pth Panzer Division was some- 
thing less than the formidable force its 
name implied. 1 

As events developed, the enemy mus- 
tered almost no opposition as the 30th 
Division drove through the northwest- 
ern portion of the Hambach Forest. 
While sharp local fights developed at two 
farmhouses and a roadblock along the 
highway leading from Niederzier to 
Steinstrass at the northern edge of the 
forest, they failed to delay the division 
as a whole. At dark Steinstrass remained 
in German hands, but the 30th Divi- 
sion's line ran along the north edge of 
the forest, tying in to the west with the 
29th Division astride the Juelich- 
Cologne highway. 2 

In the 29th Division's sector, only the 
175th Infantry advanced during the day, 



1 MS # B-812 (Zangen). Strength figures are 
from Map, Lage Frankreich) OKW-WFSt Op(H) 
West Pruef-Nr 1949, Stand: 14.2.4;, 2. Lage. 

2 The tactical story is based primarily on official 
unit records and combat interviews. 



164 




General McLain 

and that a short distance to stay abreast 
of the 30 th while a new division was 
entering the line to bolster the left wing 
of the XIX Corps. Commitment of an- 
other division was with an eye both to- 
ward broadening the attack and toward 
reducing the gap on the left as the XIII 
Corps swung north. The corps com- 
mander, General McLain, introduced a 
regiment of the 83d Division (General 
Macon) on the extreme left of the 
corps, attaching it temporarily to the 
29th Division. 

The only real difficulty with the pivot 
maneuver arose within the XIII Corps 
sector. There the rapid D-day advance 
of the 84th Division, plus the fact that 
the left wing of the XIX Corps failed to 
move, left the io2d Division's right 
flank open. Expecting continued attack 
to the east, the Germans were in no po- 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 

sition to halt the load's northward move 
head on, but they could fire directly 
into the exposed flank. 

That fire dealt a crippling blow to 
two companies of the 701st Tank Bat- 
talion supporting the northward ad- 
vance of the 405th Infantry on the vil- 
lage of Hottorf. Hardly had the tanks 
started to move when antitank guns to 
the east opened a deadly fire. They 
knocked out four tanks from one com- 
pany, eight from the other. Eight other 
tanks foundered in German infantry 
trenches. Two failed mechanically. Only 
five joined the infantry on the objective. 

In the 84th Division, one regiment 
remained in Baal, the northernmost 
point reached on D-day, while the 335th 
Infantry passed through to try to make 
a swift conquest of the next village, Do- 
veren, and prepare the way for the XVI 
Corps to cross the Roer unopposed. Yet 
as men of the 335th moved forward, they 
ran into one tenacious nest of resistance 
after another that the swift advance on 
D-day had failed to clear. Not until mid- 
afternoon, after tanks of the 771st Tank 
Battalion arrived to help, did the drive 
on Doveren pick up momentum, and 
darkness had fallen before the village 
was firmly in hand. Anderson's XVI 
Corps remained on the west bank. 

For all the problems in taking Do- 
veren, the hardest fighting on 24 Feb- 
ruary again fell the lot of the First 
Army's VII Corps. Not involved in the 
pivot to the north, the VII Corps still 
had its work cut out, since the 8th Divi- 
sion had much to do before the division 
could be said to be firmly established on 
the east bank of the Roer. 

The 13th Infantry with all battalions 
in line spent 24 February fighting 
through Dueren. Opposition was intense 



NINTH ARMY TO THE RHINE 



165 



only at two nests of army barracks, but 
bomb craters and rubble posed serious 
obstacles. Not only were streets impass- 
able for vehicles but commanders strug- 
gled in vain to relate maps to the field of 
ruins. The 28th Infantry in the mean- 
time forced additional strength into 
woods to the south but as night came 
still was short of the objective of Stock- 
heim, on which General Weaver in- 
tended to anchor the division's south 
flank. Yet for all the limits of the day's 
advances and continued German shell- 
ing of bridge sites, Weaver could 
breathe more easily as the second day 
came to an end — his reserve, the 121st 
Infantry, crossed into Dueren late in the 
day prepared to attack the next morn- 
ing through the 13 th Infantry, 

From the point of view of the corps 
commander, General Collins, the 8th 
Division's slow progress was of minor 
concern so long as the bridgehead re- 
mained solid. The job of the VII Corps 
for the moment was flank protection for 
the Ninth Army, and continued advance 
by the 104th Division was what he 
needed to assure that. Collins was par- 
ticularly anxious that the 104th gain 
Oberzier and two other villages facing 
the Hambach Forest, both to take out 
German guns that might harass the 
flank of the neighboring 30th Division 
and to open the way for the corps cav- 
alry to clear the forest before the Ger- 
mans could concentrate there for 
counterattack. 3 



"General Collins normally issued oral orders to 
his division commanders, then had them trans- 
scribed as written letters of instruction. These are 
valuable for revealing the reasoning behind the 
orders. See VII Corps Ltrs of Instrs file, Feb 45. 



Because the 413 th Infantry was oc- 
cupied mopping up the northern half 
of Dueren, General Allen assigned all 
three villages to the 415th Infantry. The 
1st Battalion reached one village before 
daylight but had to fight all day and 
through the next night to clean out in- 
fantry supported by four self-propelled 
guns. Also making a predawn attack, 
the 2d Battalion reeled back from Ober- 
zier in the face of heavy German shell- 
ing. To prepare the way for a second 
attack an hour before noon, five bat- 
talions of artillery pounded the village 
for three hours. When the 2d Battalion 
moved again, the men took Oberzier in 
the face of only light small arms fire. 
Because the approach to the third vil- 
lage was exposed to fire from the other 
two, the 3d Battalion delayed attacking 
until after dark. 

As night fell on the 24th, all condi- 
tions for committing the cavalry were 
yet to be met, nor was there room to 
commit armor south of the Hambach 
Forest. Anxious to get his mobile forces 
into action, Collins ordered both the 
8th and 104th Divisions to continue at- 
tacking through the night. 

Although German commanders had 
feared an Allied pincers movement west 
of the Rhine, during this second day 
they still had not fully fathomed Ameri- 
can intentions. While noting with trep- 
idation the northward orientation of 
the 84th Division, the Fifteenth Army 
commander, General von Zangen, con- 
tinued to hope that the Ninth Army 
aimed its attack at the Rhine around 
Cologne and that the northward thrust 
was but a secondary effort to secure the 
road center of Erkelenz. To believe oth- 
erwise would be to admit that the entire 
south wing of Atmy Group H was about 



166 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



to be crushed in a vise between con- 
vergent Canadian and American drives. 4 
As the only hope for stopping the 
84th Division, Zangen sent to Erkelenz 
advance contingents of a woefully weak 
infantry division (the 338th), which 
had recently arrived from the Colmar 
pocket far to the south. Against what 
Zangen considered the main attack, the 
eastward thrust, he could do nothing 
but urge speed in piecemeal commit- 
ment of the pth and nth Panzer Divi- 
sions. A panzer grenadier regiment of 
the pth would go into the line during 
the night of 24 February around Stein- 
s trass in an effort to prevent advance 
beyond the Hambach Forest. Only the 
Reconnaissance Battalion of the nth 
Panzer Division would be available for 
commitment during the night and 
would enter the line a few miles to the 
north. No matter the harm piecemeal 
commitments would do to any hope of 
mounting a major counterattack, Zan- 
gen deemed he had no choice. 5 

The Third and Fourth Days 

Sensing or at least guessing at German 
confusion, American commanders on 25 
February made every effort to capital- 
ize on it and gain momentum. In a con- 
tinuing build-up beyond the Roer, at 
least one combat command of armor ar- 
rived during the day to reinforce each 
corps. Lest the 84th Division be slowed 
by clearing a crossing site for the XVI 



4 MS # B-812 (Zangen). 

5 Ibid. See also MSS # C-020 (Schramm); # B- 
080, 12th Volks Grenadier Division, 23 February 
-March 1945 (Generalmajor Rudolf Langhaeuser, 
CG); #■ B-152, 59th Infantry Division, 2 December 
1944-28 February 1945 (Generalleutnant Walter 
Poppe, CG) . 





■1 '^f ij 




1 j 




General Anderson 

Corps, General Simpson told General 
Anderson to test the feasibility of cross- 
ing on his own. 8 

The position of Anderson's corps was 
complicated by the existence of several 
German bridgeheads on the west bank 
of the Roer, one of which encompassed 
the town o£ Hilfarth in a loop of the 
river southwest of Doveren. If Anderson 
was to glean advantage from the ad- 
vance already made on the east bank 
by the 84th Division, his troops would 
have to cross at or near Hilfarth, and 
that meant the town had to be cleared 
first. 

The scheme as General Anderson de- 
veloped it was for the 79th Division 



"In addition to official sources, see History of 
the XVI Corps (Washington: Infantry Journal 
Press, 1947), pp. 24-26. 



NINTH ARMY TO THE RHINE 



167 



(Maj. Gen. Ira T. Wyche) to stage a 
feint several miles downstream while 
the 35th Division took Hilfarth and 
actually crossed the river. To assist the 
crossing, the division commander, Gen- 
eral Baade, sent his 137th Infantry into 
the bridgehead of the XIII Corps to 
take over the assignment of driving 
north down the east bank. In hope of 
keeping the Germans from demolishing 
a highway bridge they had left intact to 
serve their garrison in Hilfarth, the 
6gad Field Artillery Battalion early on 
the 25th began to place harassing fire 
around the bridge. 

A battalion of the 35th Division's 
134th Infantry hit Hilfarth before day- 
light on 26 February. Despite a vicious 
curtain of fire from automatic weapons, 
the infantrymen forced their way into 
the town, only to discover that the Ger- 
mans had turned it into a lethal nest of 
mines and booby traps. The bulk of the 
battalion's casualties came from those. 

By midmorning, with the town in 
hand, infantrymen provided covering 
fire with their machine guns while en- 
gineers erected two footbridges across 
a narrow stretch of the Roer. As some 
riflemen began to cross, others turned 
their attention a few hundred yards 
downstream. There either thirty-six 
hours of harassing fire by the 6g2d Field 
Artillery or faulty German demolitions 
had saved the coveted highway bridge. 
By noon tanks and other vehicles were 
rolling across. 

Giving the XVI Corps responsibility 
for seizing its own foothold over the 
Roer had in the meantime freed the 
84th Division to concentrate on driving 
some three miles beyond Baal to take 
the road center of Erkelenz. Inserting a 
combat command of the 5th Armored 



Division (Maj. Gen. Lunsford E. Oli- 
ver) on the right flank of the XIII 
Corps also released the io2d Division to 
help. Under General Gillem's plan, the 
io2d was to attack the town itself while 
the 84th cut roads to the west. 

Although first contingents of the ene- 
my's 338th Infantry Division had arrived 
during the night of 25 February at Er- 
kelenz in an effort to bolster the falter- 
ing XII SS Corps, their efforts were so 
weak as to be hardly apparent. On the 
26th the io2d Division cut through al- 
most without opposition to find Erke- 
lenz practically deserted. After dodging 
enemy shelling to gain one village, the 
84th Division passed on to another to 
find not only no opposition but, in the 
village Gasihaus, beer on tap. 

The resistance had been more chal- 
lenging to the XIX Corps because of 
General von Zangen's hurried commit- 
ment of portions of the 9th and nth 
Panzer Divisions, but the challenge was 
short-lived. Just before dark on the 25th 
the 30th Division's 1 17th Infantry broke 
stubborn resistance by panzer grenadiers 
at Steinstrass, while the 119th Infantry 
at the same time bypassed the village to 
drive almost two miles beyond. Moving 
fast, shooting as they went, men of the 
119th ran a gantlet of heavy flanking 
fire that knocked out eight supporting 
tanks, but in the process the men took 
more than 200 prisoners, including all 
of a Nebelwerfer company that never 
got a chance to fire. At the end of the 
day the division commander, General 
Hobbs, could report to General Mc- 
Lain: "It looks like things are beginning 
to break a bit." 7 



1 30th Div G-3 Jnl, 25-26 Feb 45. 



168 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Hobbs was right. Things were begin- 
ning to break. 

Between them, the 29th and 30th Di- 
visions were rolling up from the flank 
the enemy's second line of field fortifi- 
cations and having surprisingly little 
trouble doing it. The 29th Division on 
25 February took five villages and 
marked up an average advance of about 
four miles, then the next day gained the 
southern rim of the egg-shaped plateau 
that extends from the Roer to the Erft. 
During those two days, the attached 
330th Infantry (83d Division) lost not 
a man killed and had only fifty-nine 
wounded. With some men riding at- 
tached tanks, a regiment of the 30th Di- 
vision on the 26th advanced more than 
three miles. Another bound like that 
would put even the outside unit of the 
Ninth Army's wheel onto the egg-shaped 
plateau. 

To the corps commander, General 
McLain, it was clear that the way to 
the Rhine was opening. Only antitank 
fire remained effective; the German in- 
fantry appeared confused and drained of 
all enthusiasm for the fight. 

Although the time for exploitation 
seemed at hand, General McLain was re- 
luctant to turn the drive over to his 
armor lest the Germans had manned 
their third and final prepared defense 
line, which ran five miles to the north 
through the village of Garzweiler, 
roughly on an east-west line with Erke- 
lenz. McLain told the 30th Division to 
continue as far as Garzweiler, where- 
upon the 2d Armored Division was to 
take over. 

Nor was all the success confined to 
units of the Ninth Army. While resist- 
ance still was stickier opposite the VII 
Corps, General Collins's divisions had 



begun to break it by a simple process 
of continuous, unremitting attack all 
along the corps front for seventy-two 
hours. "Contrary to their former custo- 
mary manner of fighting," the com- 
mander of the 12th Volks Grenadier 
Division would note, the Americans 
"continued their fighting day and night. 
As the enemy could always bring new 
infantry into the conflict while on our 
side always the same soldiers had to 
continue fighting, the over-exertion of 
our own infantry was extreme." 8 

The hardest fighting occurred on the 
approaches and within the southern 
reaches of the Hambach Forest along 
both sides of an uncompleted Aachen- 
Cologne autobahn. The explanation be- 
came apparent with capture of prisoners 
from the pth Panzer Division's 10th Pan- 
zer Grenadier Regiment, but even that 
once-elite regiment could give only 
slight pause to a relentless American 
push. To break up a counterattack at 
one village, a battalion of the 415th In- 
fantry got nine battalions of artillery to 
fire for fifteen minutes. Making a night 
attack along the axis of the Dueren- 
Cologne railroad, a lone company of the 
413th Infantry captured 200 men, all 
that remained of the 1st Battalion, 10th 
Panzer Grenadier Regiment. The bag 
included the battalion commander. 

At the same time, the 8th Division's 
13th Infantry was wiping out the last 
resistance in Dueren with an attack pre- 
ceded by a 10-minute artillery prepara- 
tion in which four battalions fired more 
than 1,500 rounds. In an attack on a vil- 
lage two miles to the east, two battalions 
of the 121st Infantry fought all day on 
25 February without success but per- 



MS # B-080 (Langhaeuser). 



NINTH ARMY TO THE RHINE 



169 



sisted through the night until at last the 
Germans had enough and pulled out. 

On the 25th, the 8th Division com- 
mander, General Weaver, suffered the 
fourth in a series of heart attacks and 
was evacuated. He was succeeded by 
Brig. Gen. Bryant E. Moore, former as- 
sistant division commander of the 104th 
Division. 

While the two infantry divisions con- 
tinued to drive through the night, Gen- 
eral Collins ordered his cavalry and 
armor across the Roer bridges. The ma- 
neuver he planned for 26 February was 
simple, flexible, and admirably designed 
to exploit the full shock of armor. 

With the 13th Infantry attached, the 
3d Armored Division (General Rose) 
split into six task forces, one built 
around the 83d Reconnaissance Bat- 
talion, the others each with a nucleus 
of one battalion of tanks and one of 
armored infantry, plus increments of 
engineers, tank destroyers, and artillery. 
With two task forces, Combat Com- 
mand A on the right was to attack 
astride the Dueren-Cologne highway to 
gain the Erft River while CCB, also with 
two task forces, was to take the road 
center of Elsdorf, northeast of the Ham- 
bach Forest a few miles short of the 
Erft. One task force was to remain in 
division reserve and the 83d Reconnais- 
sance Battalion was to serve as a bridge 
between the two combat commands. 
The 24th Cavalry Squadron was to pro- 
tect the left flank inside the Hambach 
Forest. 

In striking northeastward, the Ameri- 
can armor was turning away from the 
enemy's LVIII Panzer Corps into the 
sector of the LXXXI Corps, where the 
last of the pth Panzer Division had ar- 
rived to assume a passive defensive role. 



Also present was a Kampfgruppe of the 
3d Panzer Grenadier Division, rushed 
northward from the Eifel. Yet neither 
could do more than impose minor 
wounds on the full-strength American 
division. In taking the first village 
astride the Dueren-Cologne highway, 
CCA lost eight tanks to concealed Ger- 
man antitank guns, but that was the 
worst that happened to any part of the 
3d Armored Division all day. As night 
came, contingents of CCB were drawn 
up before Elsdorf, ready to hit the town 
the next morning. 

For the better part of 27 February 
the pth Panzer Division made a fight of 
it in Elsdorf, but with fire support from 
a company of tanks positioned in a 
neighboring village an infantry bat- 
talion broke into the town before noon 
and began a systematic mop-up. With 
the tank company was a T26 medium 
tank armed with a 90-mm. gun, one of 
the first twenty of this model (the Persh- 
ing) sent to the European theater for 
testing. The tank gave a good account of 
itself. At a range of a thousand yards, 
the Pershing hit and destroyed two Mark 
IV tanks, drilling holes through the 
thick side armor, and stopped a Mark 
VI Tiger with a hit at the vulnerable 
turret joint. 

By midafternoon Elsdorf was suffi- 
ciently cleared to enable General Rose 
to commit his division reserve north- 
eastward toward the Erft alongside the 
83d Reconnaissance Battalion. As night 
came the armor held a 3-mile stretch of 
the Erft's west bank, and after dark in- 
fantrymen waded across to establish two 
small bridgeheads. 

On 27 February the VII Corps thus 
completed its role in Operation Gre- 
nade. In two bounds the armor had cov- 



170 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




ered ten and a half miles from the 
original Roer bridgehead line to the 
Erft to seal the Ninth Army's south 
flank. Although General Collins would 
be quick to exploit the crossing of the 
Erft, the exploitation was logically not 
part of Grenade but belonged to an- 
other operation General Bradley had 
been designing to carry his 12th Army 
Group to the Rhine. 9 

Rundstedt's Appeal 
As these events had been occurring 

'See below, ch. X. 



with such swiftness, German command- 
ers who as late as 24 February could 
hope that the Ninth Army's crushing 
drive was not designed to converge with 
the Canadian thrust southeast from 
Nijmegen were at last impelled to face 
reality. Operation Grenade at that point 
clearly was the hammer aimed at crush- 
ing the southern wing of Army Group 
H against the anvil of Operation Veri- 
table. Success of the operations meant 
encirclement or crushing defeat both for 
Army Group H's southern wing, the 
First Parachute Army, and that part of 



NINTH ARMY TO THE RHINE 



171 



the Fifteenth Army that was being 
forced back to the north. 10 

Admission of that hard fact came at 
every level of command, from Fifteenth 
Army to OB WEST. Although Field 
Marshal Model at Army Group B ac- 
knowledged the truth of a grim estimate 
of the situation made by the Fifteenth 
Army, he could do little to help. He 
did promise commitment of the Panzer 
Lehr Division, which OB WEST ac- 
corded him, but the Panzer Lehr still 
was severely bruised from its fight 
against Operation Veritable and in any 
event could make no appearance in 
strength for several days. 11 

The Commander in Chief West, Field 
Marshal von Rundstedt, appealed on 25 
February to Hitler for new directives 
designed to prevent disintegration of the 
entire Western Front. The situation was 
bad everywhere, he reported, not only 
in the north but in the south where 
attacks by the U.S. Third Army on ei- 
ther side of the Moselle River (Bitburg 
and Trier) worried Rundstedt most of 
all. When Hitler made no immediate 
response, Rundstedt on the 26th begged 
permission to make at least a minor 
withdrawal in the north, to pull back 
the extreme left wing of the First Para- 
chute Army out of a salient at the junc- 
ture of the Roer and Maas Rivers near 
Roermond. The withdrawal was de- 
signed to ensure contact between the 
parachute army and the Fifteenth 
Army's, XII SS Corps as the latter fell 
back before the American drive. Yet 
even such a minor withdrawal Hitler 
refused to sanction. 12 



10 MS # B-812 (Zangen). 

11 Ibid. 

u Magna E. Bauer, German Top Level Decisions 



Hitler's response on 27 February 
sought to allay Rundstedt's fears about 
an attack along the Moselle but offered 
no palliatives for any of the crises in 
the west. By redeploying units already 
present, Hitler directed, the endangered 
southern wing of Army Group H was to 
hold where it was. Withdrawal behind 
the Rhine still was unthinkable. 

Even as Hitler's message arrived, the 
crisis along the boundary between Army 
Groups B and H was growing more seri- 
ous. Again Rundstedt appealed for per- 
mission to make at least the short with- 
drawal from the Roermond salient. This 
time he had the support of the Deputy 
Chief of the Wehrmacht Operations 
Staff, who personally briefed Hitler on 
the crucial situation. Hitler at last 
agreed — "with a heavy heart." 13 

Pursuit 

The Germans had ample reason to be 
concerned, for on 26 and 27 February 
both Grenade and Veritable entered 
new, decisive stages. After a pause for 
regrouping, the First Canadian Army on 
the 26th renewed its drive. A British 
corps on the right (part of the First 
Canadian Army) aimed at Geldern, nine 
miles away, where the British intended 
to meet the Americans; a Canadian 
corps on the left aimed at sweeping the 
west bank of the Rhine with a 7-mile 
jump to Xanten as the first step. It was 
on the 26th also that the VII Corps be- 
gan its successful 2-day sweep to the Erft 
to seal the Ninth Army's right flank. 



and Plans, January 1945 to End of War, prepared 
in OCMH to complement this volume; MS C- 
020 (Schramm). 

13 Quotation is from MS # C-020 (Schramm). 



172 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



The next day, the 27th, the Ninth Army 
commander, General Simpson, sanc- 
tioned commitment of the first of his 
armored divisions in a major shift to an 
exploitation phase. 

The question in Simpson's mind, as 
it had been in General McLain's, was 
whether infantry should continue to 
lead the way in the zone of the XIX 
Corps until the advance had passed the 
German trench system that cut across 
the front through Garzweiler. There 
was room already to insert a new unit 
between the 29th and 30th Divisions, 
but should this be another infantry di- 
vision or should it be armor? Gambling 
that the enemy was no longer capable 
of an organized defense on any line, 
Simpson told General McLain to send 
the armor through to the Rhine at 
Neuss. As events developed, no real con- 
cern was necessary, for before the armor 
could get going on 28 February, the 
30th Division took Garzweiler with no 
particular trouble. 

Elsewhere on the Ninth Army's front 
no one would even question the im- 
mediate use of armor. A combat com- 
mand of General Oliver's 5th Armored 
Division already had gone into action in 
the XIII Corps, originally as flank pro- 
tection; General Gillem ordered the 
rest of the division to attack through 
the i02d Division on 28 February. The 
84th Division in the meantime motor- 
ized a task force of infantry and tanks. 
While the 35th Division continued 
northwestward to gain maneuver room 
for the XVI Corps, General Anderson 
alerted a combat command of the 8th 
Armored Division (Brig. Gen. John M. 
Devine) to cross the Roer on 27 Febru- 
ary and take up the fight to the north. 

The weather remained favorable for 



tanks. Although rain on 26 and 27 Feb- 
ruary grounded tactical aircraft, it was 
too light to spoil the footing. 

On the last day of February and the 
first day of March, events proved con- 
clusively that the battlefield belonged 
to armor. All along the front American 
units recorded advances of from seven 
to ten miles, and there was little the 
Germans could do about it. 

By the end of 28 February, the 2d 
Armored Division (commanded now by 
Brig. Gen. I. D. White) and an at- 
tached regiment of the 83d Division 
stood only seven miles from the Rhine. 
The next day, 1 March, a single regi- 
ment of the 29th Division took Muen- 
chen-Gladbach almost without a fight. 
On the same day, a motorized task force 
of the 35th Division raced to Venlo on 
the Maas, more than twenty-five miles 
beyond the bridge at Hilfarth where 
the division had crossed the Roer. The 
task force was out of contact with the 
enemy most of the way, probably be- 
cause of the German withdrawal from 
the Roermond salient. 

It was all along the front a typical 
pursuit operation, a return at last to 
the halcyon days of August and early 
September. For most of the troops most 
of the time the tenseness of battle gave 
way to dull fatigue. The setting no 
longer looked like a battlefield. In one 
town electric lights were on, trolleys 
running. Many a village bore no scar. 
Returning to the fight after two days of 
rain, tactical aircraft lent a kind of dis- 
cordant note with their noisy attacks on 
fleeing German columns. Almost all fir- 
ing seemed to have an air of unreality. 
Giving way to exhaustion, one lieu- 
tenant fell asleep in a ditch, later to be 
awakened by a German woman carry- 



NINTH ARMY TO THE RHINE 



173 



ing a child and fleeing from some sense- 
less machine gun chatter down the road. 

Yet the battle had not ceased; it had 
only been shattered. The bits here and 
there, meaningless in the larger picture, 
were grim and bloody for the troops 
unlucky enough to run into them. The 
84th Division, for example, after lung- 
ing nine miles on 27 February, sud- 
denly came upon a determined group 
of Germans of the 8th Parachute Di- 
vision at a town west of Muenchen- 
Gladbach. With a skillfully organized 
defense that belied the haste with which 
the paratroopers had had to turn from 
their British foes in the north to their 
American enemies at their rear, the Ger- 
mans brought war back to the 334th In- 
fantry in a daylong fight as bitter as any 
in the campaign. 

Company G bore the brunt of the ac- 
tion. It finally required an advance over 
open ground with marching fire, hand 
grenades, and in the. end bayonets to ex- 
terminate the enemy. Of an estimated 
50 paratroopers, only 2 surrendered. 
Company G incurred 40 casualties out 
of a force of about 125 riflemen who 
took part. 

The next day, 1 March, as the 84th 
Division broke away again, General 
Simpson shuffled his reserves to make 
fresh troops available in each attacking 
corps to maintain pressure. He trans- 
ferred the 75th Division (commanded 
now by Maj. Gen. Ray E. Porter) , 
which had been under operational con- 
trol of the British, to the XVI Corps 
and shifted the 79th Division (General 
Wyche) from the XVI Corps to the 
XIII Corps. His army reserve, the 95th 
Division (Maj. Gen. Harry L. Twad- 
dle) , he attached to the XIX Corps. 

About the only thing of note the Ger- 



mans accomplished during those two 
days was an exchange of General von 
Manteuffel, commander of the Fifth 
Panzer Army, for the Fifteenth Army 
commander, General von Zangen, a step 
in implementing the long-projected 
transfer of zones between the two ar- 
mies. Yet not for another six days would 
the staffs complete the exchange. Gen- 
eral von Manteuffel promptly ordered 
the Panzer Lehr Division to counterat- 
tack southeastward from Muenchen- 
Gladbach with the aim of linking with 
a northwestward strike by the nth Pan- 
zer Division, but the Panzer Lehr still 
was assembling when the proposed base 
of Muenchen-Gladbach fell. The loss 
prompted Manteuffel to order the feeble 
nth Panzer to desist. The XII SS Corps 
continued to fall back to the north, out 
of contact with the rest of the army, 
while the LXXXI Corps and the 9th 
and nth Panzer Divisions (the two op- 
erating at this point under Corps Bayer- 
lein) withdrew eastward behind the 
Erft. 14 

Efforts To Seize a Bridge 

On the American side, commanders 
began thinking seriously of the possi- 
bility of taking intact a bridge across 
the Rhine. Nobody really counted on 
succeeding, but all deemed it worth a 
try. Strong armored punches aimed at 
the bridges would at least cut up the 
enemy and possibly trap large numbers 
even if the armor failed to take a bridge. 
The Supreme Commander, General 
Eisenhower, indicated to General Simp- 



14 MSS # B-8ia (Zangen); B-053 (Bayerlein); # 
C-020 (Schramm); # B-202, Fifth Panzer Army, 
1-17 April 1945 (Generalmajor F. von Mellenthih, 
CofS). 



174 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



son his intense interest in the Ninth 
Army's plans for taking a bridge, 15 

On 1 March General McLain of the 
XIX Corps inserted the 83d Division on 
the right of the 2d Armored with the 
mission of capturing Neuss and securing 
four bridges: a railroad and two high- 
way bridges at Neuss and a highway 
bridge downstream at Oberkassel. At- 
tacking with two regiments in early af- 
ternoon, the 83d continued through the 
night. One regiment cleared Neuss but 
found all three bridges there destroyed. 
The other regiment sent a task force 
circling wide to the west, bent on taking 
the bridge at Oberkassel by ruse. 

Composed of parts of the 736th Tank 
Battalion and the 643d Tank Destroyer 
Battalion, with riflemen from the 330th 
Infantry, the task force moved by night, 
its tanks disguised to resemble German 
tanks. Infantrymen walked beside and 
behind the tanks to make themselves as 
inconspicuous as possible while German- 
speaking soldiers riding on the fronts of 
the tanks were prepared to do any talk- 
ing required. 

At one point marching down one side 
of the road while a German foot column 
moved in the opposite direction down 
the other, the column reached the out- 
skirts of Oberkassel just at dawn. In the 
gathering light, a German soldier on a 
bicycle in a passing column suddenly 
shouted alarm. Their identity discov- 
ered, men of the task force turned their 
fire on the German column while the 
Oberkassel town siren blew a warning. 
Although the task force rushed toward 
the bridge and some tanks even got on 
the western end, the Germans demol- 
ished it. 



15 Conquer, p, 184. 



North of Neuss at Krefeld-Uerdingen 
a 1,640-foot bridge named for Adolf Hit- 
ler still stood. The bridge lay in the 
zone of the XIII Corps, with the like- 
liest candidate to rush it the 5th Ar- 
mored Division, Another possibility had 
arisen late on 28 February when the 2d 
Armored Division of the XIX Corps 
made sudden gains, though at dark the 
2d Armored still was thirteen miles or 
so from the bridge and separated from it 
by what could prove a major obstacle, 
the Nord Canal. Deciding on a wait-and- 
see policy, General Simpson alerted the 
XIII Corps to be prepared to shift 
northward on short notice to make room 
for the 2d Armored Division should' the 
armor be able to take the Nord Canal 
in stride. 

On 1 March a task force of the 2d Ar- 
mored's Combat Command A found a 
bridge intact over the canal and blasted 
a way across. Combat Command B, 
which had to put in its own bridges, 
crossed later in the day. By nightfall 
Combat Command A had reached the 
outskirts of Krefeld, only three miles 
from the Hitler bridge. 

Around noon of 1 March, when the 
Ninth Army's G-3, Col. Armistead D. 
Mead, had arrived at headquarters of the 
XIX Corps to check on progress of the 
attack, he learned that the 2d Armored 
was rolling. It would be wrong, he be- 
lieved, to stop the armor at the corps 
boundary south of Uerdingen. Since 
General Simpson was away from his 
command post, Mead issued the neces- 
sary orders in his commander's name, 
changing the boundary between the 
XIII and XIX Corps. The change 
would enable the XIX Corps to con- 
tinue along the west bank of the Rhine 
beyond Uerdingen while forcing the 



NINTH ARMY TO THE RHINE 

XIII Corps to wrench its attack north- 
ward. 

The commander of the XIII Corps, 
General Gillem, promptly protested. 
The terrain near the bridge at Uer- 
dingen, he said, was crisscrossed by ca- 
nals and road and railway embankments, 
no fit ground for armor. His own 84th 
and io2d Infantry Divisions, he insisted, 
already were well on the way to the 
Rhine and should be allowed to con- 
tinue. 

Faced with this opposition, Mead and 
General McLain of the XIX Corps went 
forward to take a close look at the situa- 
tion. They learned by their reconnais- 
sance that heavy fighting was holding up 
the io2d Division in the southern 
fringes of Krefeld. To Mead, the re- 
sistance looked to be stubborn; the best 
way to break it was to take advantage of 
the 2d Armored Division's momentum. 
Although General Gillem continued to 
debate the issue, he finally gave in near 
midnight, and the change in boundary 
stood. 

While these discussions were under- 
way, General Simpson and Field Mar- 
shal Montgomery were arranging an- 
other shift in boundary. Because resist- 
ance still was firm in front of the left 
wing of the First Canadian Army, Simp- 
son proposed to extend his own advance 
to bring his troops up to the Rhine as 
far north as a point opposite Wesel, only 
a few miles short of the Canadian ob- 
jective of Xanten. Although Montgom- 
ery rejected the proposal — possibly be- 
cause plans he already was formulating 
for jumping the Rhine involved a Brit- 
ish crossing at Wesel — he agreed to 
shift the boundary as far north as Rhein- 
berg, ten miles short of Xanten. 

So late in the day were these changes 



175 




General Gillem 



in boundaries made that they had little 
effect on the fighting for much of an- 
other day. The XIII Corps continued to 
a tack toward Uerdingen with the 5 th 
Armored Division under orders from 
General Gillem to stop at the new corps 
boundary only if the 2d Armored Divi- 
sion had arrived. Still unaware of the 
boundary change, the 84th Division in 
the meantime was making its own plans. 
The division commander, General Boil- 
ing, ordered the 334th Infantry rein- 
forced by the bulk of the 771st Tank 
Battalion to bypass Krefeld, rush the 
Hitler bridge, and, if possible, establish 
a bridgehead over the Rhine. Neither 
during the night of 1 March nor through 
the next morning did any word of the 
boundary change that would stifle this 
plan reach the staff of the 334th Infan- 
try. 



176 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Men of the 5 th Armored Division ad- 
vanced on 2 March against no effective 
opposition until, shortly past noon, they 
met contingents of the 2d Armored just 
south of Krefeld. There they halted to 
await further orders. Backing down, 
General Gillem told his armor to assem- 
ble just inside the new corps boundary. 

These forward units of the 2d Ar- 
mored Division belonged to CCA, which 
had managed only a short northward ad- 
vance during the day. CCB was coming 
up on the right, handicapped — as Gen- 
eral Gillem had predicted — by ground 
cut by numerous small streams. At the 
closest point CCB still was two miles 
short of the bridge at Uerdingen. 

The 84th Division's 334th Infantry 
meanwhile launched its attack at 1400 
from a point almost eight miles from 
Krefeld, with the intention of veering 
around the north side of the city to 
reach the bridge. With attached tanks 
rolling at top speed, the head of the 
column got into the suburbs of Krefeld 
in less than two hours after jump-off, 
but then the leading tank took a wrong 
turn heading into the city which the 
column was supposed to bypass. The 
tanks quickly became involved in a fire 
fight with German antitank guns and 
could disengage only after nightfall. The 
attack left over from the old orders thus 
stalled as new orders at last reached the 
regiment, changing the objective from 
Uerdingen to a point on the Rhine sev- 
eral miles downstream. 

The task of capturing Uerdingen and 
the still-standing Hitler bridge passed 
wholly to the XIX Corps. The troops to 
accomplish it were from the 2d Armored 
Division's CCB with two attached bat- 
talions of the 95th Division's 379th In- 
fantry. 




General Blaskowitz 



The Germans for their part were hard 
put to muster a defense on the ap- 
proaches to the bridge at Uerdingen. 
The responsibility rested not with 
Army Group B, since in driving rapidly 
to north and northeast, all columns of 
the U.S. Ninth Army now had passed 
into the zone of Army Group H's First 
Parachute Army. For just over a month 
Army Group H had been under General 
Blaskowitz, former commander of Army 
Group G, a result of command changes 
late in January when the Nazi party offi- 
cial, Himmler, had left Army Group 
Oberrhein in Alsace for new assign- 
ment on the Eastern Front. While Gen- 
eraloberst der Waffen-SS Paul Hausser 
assumed command of Army Group G, 
General Blaskowitz had moved to Army 



NINTH ARMY TO THE RHINE 



177 



Group H to replace General Student, 
an officer in whom Hitler had little con- 
fidence. 18 

General Blaskowitz and the com- 
mander of the First Parachute Army, 
General der Fallschirmtruppen Alfred 
Schlemm, had been up against many of 
the same problems faced by their col- 
leagues to the south: virtually no re- 
serves and adamant refusal by Hitler to 
allow any withdrawal to the east bank 
of the Rhine. In an effort to salvage 
something in the face of continued pres- 
sure from the First Canadian Army and 
a new threat by U.S. troops from the 
rear, the German commanders had de- 
cided to try to fashion a bridgehead 
west of the Rhine extending from Uer- 
dingen in the south to Geldern in the 
west and beyond Xanten in the north. 
To do the job at Uerdingen, General 
Schlemm ordered there what was left of 
the 2d Parachute Division, some three 
or four understrength battalions. The 
paratroopers arrived on 2 March, only a 
step ahead of the American armor. 17 

Unaware of the arrival of the para- 
troopers, the 2d Armored Division made 
plans to attack toward the bridge at 
0200, 3 March. In hope of keeping the 
Germans from demolishing the bridge, 
the Q2d Armored Field Artillery Battal- 
ion kept up a continuous harassing fire. 
Beginning soon after nightfall on 2 
March and using shells fixed with prox- 
imity fuzes, the artillery fired for more 
than fifteen hours. 

The attack itself ran into trouble 



16 Bauer, Army Group G, January 1945. 

17 MSS # B-084, First Parachute Army, 20 
November 1944-21 March 1945 (General der Falls- 
chirmtruppen Alfred Schlemm); # B-147, Army 
Group H, 10 November 1944-10 March 1945 
^Oberst Rolf Geyer, Opns Officer, AGp H). 



from the start. Four tanks knocked out 
quickly at the head of the column 
blocked passage of the others. The in- 
fantry went on alone to try to clear a 
new route. When the tanks in early 
afternoon again attacked, they reached 
the vicinity of the bridge from the south 
but ground to a halt under heavy mor- 
tar fire punctuated now and then by 
the sharper sting of an antitank gun or 
Panzerfaust. 

The two attached battalions of the 
379th Infantry meanwhile fought their 
way to the highway connecting Krefeld 
and Uerdingen and tried to turn east- 
ward to the bridge. The paratroopers 
fought back stubbornly. Tantalizingly 
close to the bridge, neither infantry nor 
tanks could push the few remaining 
yards. A 13-foot hole in the road at the 
west end of the bridge denied passage 
for the tanks, and without their help 
the infantry was unable to pierce a thick 
curtain of small arms fire. 

After dark a six-man engineer patrol 
led by Capt. George L. Youngblood 
slipped past the defenders, gained the 
bridge, and crossed it, cutting all visible 
demolition wires in the process. The 
patrol went all the way to the east bank 
before turning back. Yet the engineers 
either missed the critical wires or the 
enemy put in others during the night, 
for at 0700 the next morning, before a 
new attack could gain the bridge, the 
Germans blew the center and west 
spans. 18 

Fighting to clear Uerdingen contin- 
ued throughout 4 March and into the 
morning of the 5th. At the same time 

18 General Schlemm says: "At Uerdingen the 
demolition wires were shot out by artillery fire. 
Their replacement took hours." MS # B-084 
(Schlemm). 



178 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



the corps commander, General McLain, 
ordered the 95th Division to drive for 
road and rail bridges at Rheinhausen, 
not quite six miles downstream from 
the Adolf Hitler bridge, with the armor 
attacking northward on the 95th's left. 
Resistance proved to be light. The rea- 
son seemed apparent when during the 
morning of 5 March pilots of artillery 
observation planes reported both bridges 
at Rheinhausen already down. By mid- 
afternoon the XIX Corps had completed 
its role in reaching the Rhine but had 
failed to get a bridge. 

There was another reason for the light 
resistance. In breaking through at Uer- 
dingen, the XIX Corps had compro- 
mised the bridgehead line that General 
Schlemm, the First Parachute Army 
commander, had been trying to hold. 
With the approval of Blaskowitz at Army 
Group H, Schlemm authorized with- 
drawal to a second and smaller bridge- 
head line extending from the conflu- 
ence of the Ruhr River with the Rhine 
at Duisburg in the south to the vicinity 
of Xanten in the north. This was a line 
of no retreat designated by Hitler per- 
sonally to enable continued supply of 
coal by barge to the German Navy along 
major canals leading to the North Sea 
ports. 

Yet this line also quickly proved too 
ambitious. As the XIX Corps on 5 
March finished clearing its share of the 
Rhine's west bank, the 5th Armored Di- 
vision of the XIII Corps dashed into 
Orsoy, on the Rhine opposite one of the 
canals the Germans needed for their 
coal barges. With tanks and half-tracks 
in high gear and firing as they went, 
CCR swiftly covered the last two miles 
into Orsoy, cutting through German in- 
fantry and overrunning artillery pieces 



before they could fire. The 84th Division 
meanwhile cleared Moers and Homberg 
but found road and rail bridges leading 
across the Rhine into Duisburg already 
destroyed. 

Operation Grenade as originally con- 
ceived was over; but if the Ninth Army's 
General Simpson had his way, Grenade 
would be extended to include a bridge- 
head over the Rhine and a drive to the 
northeastern corner of the Ruhr indus- 
trial region. Since 1 March Simpson's 
staff had been considering this strata- 
gem, based in the main on the theory 
of seizing a bridge intact but, failing 
that, on a quick surprise crossing. 19 . 

General Simpson settled on a plan to 
cross the Rhine between Duesseldorf 
and Uerdingen, then to turn north to 
clear the east bank for further crossings 
and to gain relatively open country 
along the northern fringe of the Ruhr. 
It was a stratagem that hardly could 
have failed, for Hitler's refusal to agree 
to timely and orderly withdrawal behind 
the Rhine had left his field commanders 
little with which to defend the historic 
moat and in early March totally unpre- 
pared to counter a crossing. 

Yet Simpson's superior, Field Marshal 
Montgomery, said no. To a bitter Ninth 
Army staff, his refusal rested, rightly or 
wrongly, on the effect an impromptu 
American crossing might have on the 
Field Marshal's own plans for staging a 
grand set-piece assault to cross the Rhine 
on a broad front. 20 



19 Conquer, pp. i8g-go. 

20 Conquer, p. igo. Speaking with some authority 
on the British viewpoint, Chester Wilmot in The 
Struggle for Europe (New York: Harper & Brothers, 
1952), page 677, wrote that Montgomery refused 
because a crossing near Duesseldorf would have 
involved the Ninth Army in the "industrial 
wilderness" of the Ruhr. In none of his published 



NINTH ARMY TO THE RHINE 



179 



The Wesel Pocket 

Operation Grenade as originally con- 
ceived was over and would gain no new 
lease on life beyond the Rhine. Yet it 
would be extended northward along the 
west bank, for the Ninth Army still 
would have a hand in reducing those 
Germans remaining west of the river. 
Swinging northeastward after an initial 
thrust northward from the Roer cross- 
ing site, General Anderson's XVI Corps 
would be thrown into a tough after-fight 
against remnants of the First Parachute 
Army. The resistance would be stub- 
born, for never would Hitler actually 
authorize withdrawal. 

From 28 February through 3 March 
the XVI Corps had been slicing through 
relatively undefended country. In driv- 
ing first to Venlo and thence north- 
eastward in the general direction of 
Rheinberg, midway between Wesel and 
Duisburg, a motorized task force of the 
35th Division and a lone combat com- 
mand of the 8th Armored Division had 
led the way, each on a narrow front. For 
much of the time the armor had to stick 
to a single road, where its striking power 
at the head was seldom more than a pla- 
toon of tanks and a company of in- 
fantry; but neither this nor any other 
handicap really mattered. 

Indications that the road march might 
be nearing an end emerged on 3 March. 
The 35th Division's Task Force Byrne 
(a reinforced 320th Infantry) reached 



works did Montgomery himseif comment. German 
commanders almost to a man believed a surprise 
crossing would have met little resistance, a view 
reinforced by events in succeeding days elsewhere 
along the Rhine. See in particular MSS # B-084 
(Schlemm) ; # B-147 (Geyer) ; # A-965 (General- 
major Karl Wagener) . 



Sevelen, five miles southeast of Geldern, 
but t here had a s tiff fight to take the 



town. 



(Map VII) 



A battalion of the 
134th Infantry made contact with the ist 
British Corps at Geldern, but resistance 
there too was determined. Although the 
8th Armored Division still had met no 
real opposition, the armor was about to 
be pinched out by the change in bound- 
ary that sent the neighboring XIII 
Corps northward. CCB would be at- 
tached the next day to the 35th Divi- 
sion, while CCR on the extreme right 
had to be recalled to make room for 
units of the XIII Corps. 

Contact between the forces of Opera- 
tions Veritable and Grenade on 3 
March at Geldern created a continuous 
Allied perimeter around those Germans 
remaining west of the Rhine. Units of 
the 1st British Corps had reached posi- 
tions generally on a north-south line 
between the Xanten Forest, west of 
Xanten, and Geldern, while the Cana- 
dians still were fighting to wrest a ridge- 
line within the Xanten Forest from 
German paratroopers. 

The perimeter for the moment cor- 
responded roughly to the outer bridge- 
head line that General Schlemm of the 
First Parachute Army was trying to 
establish, but not for long. The ad- 
vances at Geldern and Sevelen meant 
that in the center as in the south the 
Germans would have to fall back to the 
inner bridgehead line, which in this sec- 
tor ran about six miles east of Geldern 
along the western edge of the Boenning- 
hardt Forest. The southern edge of the 
bridgehead would be anchored on 
Orsoy. 

From the vicinity of Xanten to Orsoy, 
the German bridgehead was some six- 
teen miles wide. It encompassed the 



180 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



only high ground in this generally flat 
portion of the Rhineland: a boomerang- 
shaped ridge in the north covered by the 
Xanten Forest, the wooded Boenning- 
hardt Ridge on a northwest-southeast 
axis that bisected the Geldern-Wesel 
highway, and a series of isolated hills 
south of the Boenninghardt Ridge. 

Within the bridgehead General 
Schlemm still had more than 50,000 
men, representing contingents of almost 
every division that had put up such a 
determined stand against Operation 
Veritable, including four parachute 
divisions, the Panzer Lehr and 116th 
Panzer Divisions, and a panzer grena- 
dier division. 21 Only in the north oppo- 
site the Canadians was the bridgehead 
line solidly organized, for there the Ger- 
mans had made a grudging withdrawal 
back to a natural line of defense. Else- 
where hasty withdrawal had left few 
German units with any real integrity. 

Within the bridgehead, two bridges 
still spanned the Rhine, a road bridge 
and a rail bridge, both leading to Wesel, 
the city on the east bank that would 
lend its name to the pocket of German 
troops. Those bridges obviously would 
be a key Allied objective, both because 
they stood almost exactly in the middle 
of the bridgehead and because they held 
out promise for crossing the Rhine with 
dry feet. 

Because of the sparse opposition the 
Americans had been meeting, Allied 
commanders believed the best chance of 
getting the Wesel bridges rested with 
the XVI Corps. The assignment went to 
the 35th Division and its attached com- 
bat command, which were to drive 
northeastward to Rheinberg, thence 



"MS f B-084 (Schlemm). 



northward to take the bridges. Although 
the bridges lay outside the American 
boundary, the commanders informally 
eased boundary restrictions. 

General Baade's 35th Division at- 
tacked on 4 March with two regiments 
abreast. On the left two battalions of 
the 320th Infantry came under intense 
fire from small arms, mortars, and artil- 
lery as they approached the Hohe Busch, 
a small forest not quite half the distance 
to Rheinberg astride the Sevelen- 
Rheinberg highway. Fire from neither 
artillery nor tank destroyers could neu- 
tralize the German positions. Although 
a platoon of rifllemen got into a village 
just west of the wood, the men with- 
drew when the enemy began closing 
around them. Under the impression that 
the platoon held the village, five me- 
dium and two light tanks of the 784th 
Tank Battalion moved in. With Panzer- 
fausts the Germans knocked out one of 
the mediums and both the lights, and 
only the timely arrival of a reserve rifle 
company spared the others. Even after 
the infantry cleared the village, the Ger- 
mans after dark came back, besieging 
one American platoon in a hotel with 
hand grenades thrown through the win- 
dows. 

It was a touch of the old war again, 
of the days before anyone talked of Ger- 
man collapse, not only here but to the 
south where two battalions of the 137 th 
Infantry on the 35th Division's right 
wing also ran into trouble. 

Attacking from a point southeast of 
Sevelen, a leading company of one bat- 
talion encountered heavy fire at the base 
of one of the isolated hills that afforded 
a logical extension of any defensive line 
based to the north on the Boenning- 
hardt Ridge and the Hohe Busch. Two 



NINTH ARMY TO THE RHINE 



181 



platoons found some shelter in ditches 
and behind hedges while the other two 
ducked into houses. Because the com- 
pany's artillery observer had lost his 
radio, the men had no artillery support. 
As two German tanks rolled down the 
road, one blast from their guns killed 
the company commander, Capt. Daniel 
Filburn, and a platoon leader, 2d Lt. 
John H. Hartment. With two key lead- 
ers lost and the tanks methodically 
blasting the houses and ditches in which 
the men sought shelter, all control van- 
ished. The men fled. Reorganized before 
noon, they went back with tank de- 
stroyer support to hold the position, but 
not until the next day did this battalion 
mount another attack. 22 

Another battalion of the 137th Infan- 
try also had a day of hard fighting, but 
with consistent tank and artillery sup- 
port achieved a noteworthy success. 
When a patrol came under heavy fire 
from one of the isolated hills, the battal- 
ion commander, Maj. Harry F. Parker, 
borrowed six half-tracks and several 
light tanks from the 8th Armored Divi- 
sion's 88th Reconnaissance Battalion, 
mounted Company G on them, and 
sent them racing into houses at the foot 
of the hill. While another company pro- 
vided supporting fire from the edge of 
a nearby wood, Company G continued 
northward to take not only the offend- 
ing hill but another a few hundred 
yards to the north. The latter yielded 
200 prisoners and prompted Germans 
on a remaining hill to the north to pull 
out during the night. 

Despite the sudden flare-up of fighting 
on 4 March, General Baade continued 



22 Extensive combat interviews are available on 
these actions of the 35th Division. 



to anticipate a speedy breakthrough to 
the Rhine and possibly even across the 
river by way of one of the bridges at 
Wesel. To gain a leg on the thrust to 
the bridges, he ordered Task Force 
Byrne (the 320th Infantry reinforced) 
to turn immediately northward to seize 
a key crossroads on the Geldern-Wesel 
highway behind the Boenninghardt 
Ridge. The attached CCB, 8th Armored 
Division, was to assume the assignment 
of taking Rheinberg, whereupon the ar- 
mor and the 137th Infantry together 
were to turn north toward the bridges. 

Task Force Byrne started moving 
early on 5 March, the men fully expect- 
ing to make a rapid advance by bounds. 
Yet even though the Germans had evac- 
uated most of the Hohe Busch during 
the night, rear guards held out through 
the morning. As the 1st Battalion at last 
passed to the north of the forest, the 
Germans cut off the leading platoon in 
a village at the base of the Boenning- 
hardt Ridge. It took the rest of the day 
to rescue the platoon and clear the 
enemy from scattered houses nearby. An- 
other battalion that had in the mean- 
time attempted to advance along the 
main highway toward Rheinberg before 
turning north met intense fire from 
automatic weapons and antitank guns. 
The leading company lost two support- 
ing tanks and its commander. 

Even heavier fighting erupted on the 
approaches to Rheinberg where, under 
the plan of CCB's commander, Col. Ed- 
ward A. Kimball, a task force composed 
largely of infantry was to take the town 
while another heavy in armor was to be 
ready to push on to the bridges at 
Wesel. The plan was based on a premise 
of negligible resistance; said the com- 
mander of the task force of armor, Maj. 



182 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



John H. Van Houten: "We thought it 
was to be a road march." 23 

The operation started out pretty 
much that way as the infantry force un- 
der Lt. Col. Morgan G. Roseborough 
marched beyond the isolated hills south 
of the Hohe Busch and entered the 
town of Lintfort. The town was secured 
by 1100, but among the buildings Task 
Force Roseborough took a wrong turn- 
ing to end up north instead of east 
of the town. As the column advanced 
along a road leading to the main high- 
way into Rheinberg, German antitank 
guns opened fire, knocking out a half- 
track and a medium tank. At the same 
time a rash of small arms fire erupted 
from nearby houses. The infantry dis- 
mounted, deployed, and gave battle. 

Anxious to avoid delay in seizing 
Rheinberg, the CCB commander, Colo- 
nel Kimball, called forward Task Force 
Van Houten. Major Van Houten and 
his armor, he ordered, were to drive 
alone on Rheinberg. The infantry of 
Task Force Roseborough was to follow 
later in half-tracks. 

Major Van Houten split his task force 
into three columns. One was to bypass 
the opposition holding up Task Force 
Roseborough and drive up the main 
highway into Rheinberg, a second to 
move along secondary roads to join the 
first on the main highway a thousand 
yards out of Rheinberg, and a third to 
drive east and come into Rheinberg by 
way of another main highway from the 
south. 

All three columns quickly ran into 
trouble. Composed mainly of light 
tanks, the left column on the Rheinberg 
highway soon lost four tanks to antitank 



Combat interview with Van Houten. 



guns, a Panzerfaust, and a mine. The 
center column never reached the high- 
way as concealed German antitank guns 
knocked out twelve of fourteen medium 
tanks. The CCB commander himself, 
Colonel Kimball, got trapped in a house 
by mortar and machine gun fire and 
escaped only after darkness came. The 
third column meanwhile gained the 
highway leading into Rheinberg from 
the south but there encountered a 
swarm of German infantry and lost two 
tanks to Panzerfausts. 

Having no infantry support, the com- 
mander of this column, Capt. David B. 
Kelly, radioed for help; but before in- 
fantry could arrive, he decided to risk a 
quick rush against Rheinberg with tanks 
alone. While the bulk of his company 
provided covering fire, three tanks raced 
forward. German antitank fire got all 
three of them. 

Kelly himself then led a dash by his 
remaining tanks, but all except Kelly's 
own tank lagged. Kelly raced into 
Rheinberg alone, circled the town 
square, machine-gunned a German who 
was about to fire a Panzerfaust, nar- 
rowly escaped hits from German anti- 
tank guns five times, then raced back 
out of the town. On the way back Ger- 
man gunners hit his tank twice but 
failed to stop it. 

Returning to his companions south 
of the town, Kelly found infantry sup- 
port at last arriving: two companies of 
Task Force Roseborough that finally 
had eliminated the enemy north of Lint- 
fort. In the hour of daylight remaining, 
the infantry and Kelly's seven remaining 
tanks mounted a new attack. Kelly him- 
self led it on foot. 

Advancing together, infantry and 
tanks took a hundred prisoners and 



NINTH ARMY TO THE RHINE 



183 



knocked out three 88's, five 20-mm. 
antiaircraft guns, and four machine 
guns. Reaching the southern fringe of 
Rheinberg as darkness fell, they waited 
for the 35th Division's 137th Infantry 
to come up during the night and secure 
the rest of the town. 

The fight for Rheinberg had all but 
annihilated CCB's armor; of 54 tanks, 
39 were lost. For both the 36th Tank Bat- 
talion and the 49th Armored Infantry, 
it had been the first real fight, strikingly 
sharp action when compared with the 
skirmishing that had marked the com- 
bat command's brief previous experience 
in battle. Although the men had dis- 
played considerable valor, they had paid 
dearly with a loss of 92 killed, 31 miss- 
ing, 220 wounded. In official tones, the 
8th Armored Division's staff summarized 
what had gone wrong: "The employ- 
ment of the tank elements could have 
been improved through the provision of 
closer infantry support, and undoubted- 
ly such support would have materially 
decreased the tank losses of the Combat 
Command." 24 

A daylong spectator at the events 
around Orsoy was the First Parachute 
Army commander, General Schlemm. 25 
Fully expecting the Americans to send 
a column of tanks streaking northward 
immediately to cut off his remaining 
troops from the Wesel bridges, Schlemm 
nevertheless put into effect plans for a 
new defensive line. Ordering two of his 
three corps headquarters to retire east of 
the Rhine, he placed the remaining 
bridgehead under one corps. The 
bridgehead still encompassed the town 
of Xanten and most of the Boenning- 
hardt Ridge. 



While the Canadians plugged away at 
die-hard opposition in Xanten, General 
Anderson's XVI Corps headed north 
with two task forces, Task Force Byrne 
still on the left, Task Force Murray 
(the 137th Infantry with what remained 
of the 8th Armored Division's CCB) on 
the right. Both task forces soon discov- 
ered that the hard fighting for Rhein- 
berg on 5 March had been a harbinger 
of what was to come. Although a British 
division on the left of Task Force Byrne 
provided help, the two task forces could 
do no more through the next three days 
than inch forward. 

Then as suddenly as the determined 
resistance had formed, it disintegrated. 
During the night of 9 March the Ger- 
mans blew both the highway and rail- 
way bridges at Wesel, leaving only a few 
rear guards and stragglers on the west 
bank. Passing through Task Force Mur- 
ray, the 134th Infantry the next morn- 
ing swept to the demolished highway 
bridge almost unimpeded. 

The Beginning of the End 

In just over two weeks the Ninth 
Army had driven approximately 53 
miles, from the Roer at Juelich to the 
Rhine at Wesel, and had cleared some 
34 miles of the west bank of the Rhine 
from Duesseldorf to Wesel. In the proc- 
ess the army had captured about 30,000 
Germans and killed an estimated 6,000 
more while absorbing less than 7,300 
casualties. 26 In the companion drive, the 
First Canadian Army had driven ap- 
proximately 40 miles from the Dutch- 
German border near Nijmegen to 



M 8th Armored Div AAR, Mar 45. 
25 MS # B-084 (Schlemm). 



Conquer, p. 198. 



184 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Wesel. The casualties in Veritable were 
15,600, prisoners, 22,20c 27 

The First Canadian Army's task had 
been the more difficult of the two, for 
the fortune of the delay imposed on 
Operation Grenade by the flooded Roer 
River had shoved the bulk of German 
strength to the north. The First Para- 
chute Army clearly had been superior 
to the Fifteenth Army. In addition, 
flooded ground over the first few miles 
of the Canadians' route of attack had 
imposed serious difficulties. 

Although Field Marshal Montgomery 
had not intended it so, the two opera- 
tions had developed in a pattern already 
made familiar in Sicily and again in 
Normandy, where Montgomery's troops 
attracted German reserves while Ameri- 
can forces achieved a breakthrough and 
rapid exploitation. In Normandy more 
favorable terrain had lured the Germans 
to Montgomery's front; here it was be- 
cause the Canadian attack had started 
first. As in Normandy, the Americans 
with their immense transportation re- 
sources were admirably suited for the 
breakthrough role. 

For all the speed of execution, Opera- 
tion Grenade was complex, involving 
the crossing of a flooded, defended river, 
followed by two major changes in direc- 
tion of attack and a minor adjustment 
at the end. A trace along the middle of 
the Ninth Army's course would resem- 
ble a giant S. 

The operation also had introduced 
another complication that all Allied ar- 
mies now would experience as they 
thrust deep into the interior of Ger- 



many. This was the presence of millions 
of noncombatants — native civilians, im- 
pressed workers from other countries, 
and liberated prisoners of war. 

In some measure the Allies had ex- 
perienced the problem before in France, 
Belgium, and the Netherlands, but the 
populace in those countries had been 
friendly. In earlier fighting just within 
the German frontier, many of the ci- 
vilians had fled the battle zone; but now, 
as the Allies thrust deeper, there was 
nowhere for them to go. Literally masses 
of humanity wandered about, cluttering 
roads, slowing traffic, sometimes clog- 
ging prisoner-of-war channels. Destroyed 
homes, damaged water, sanitary and 
electrical facilities, and a complete 
breakdown of civilian transportation 
added to the problem. To establish some 
semblance of order out of the chaos was 
a mammoth asignment that by 1 5 March 
already was occupying more than forty 
Military Government detachments in 
the Ninth Army's zone. 28 

Meanwhile, the great build-up for 
crossing the Rhine began, underscoring 
the fact that Operations Grenade and 
Veritable marked the beginning of the 
end. Not only had these operations put 
the Ninth Army, the Canadians, and the 
British into position to cross the Rhine 
but they had unleashed a flood of offen- 
sive operations elsewhere, designed to 
carry all Allied armies to the river. In- 
deed, a contingent of one American 
army already had stolen a march on all 
others and jumped the big obstacle with- 
out pause. 



27 Stacey, The Victory Campaign, p. 53a. 



28 An instructive essay on this subject may be 
found in Conquer, pp. 195-97. 



CHAPTER X 



Operation Lumberjack 



Although the American attacks in the 
Eifel and the Saar-Moselle triangle were 
unpopular with Field Marshal Mont- 
gomery, they were in reality of assistance 
to him, for they did, in fact, limit the 
units the Germans could disengage to 
send north. They also put General Brad- 
ley's forces into better positions for gain- 
ing the Rhine whenever the signal came 
and denied hard-pressed German units 
the respite they desperately needed. 

In making plans for going beyond 
those limited objective attacks, General 
Bradley had to consider not only the re- 
sponsibility for protecting the right flank 
of the Ninth Army as far as the Erft in 
Operation Grenade but also an addi- 
tional task that the Supreme Com- 
mander, General Eisenhower, assigned 
on 20 February. Before Bradley could 
turn full attention to gaining the west 
bank of the Rhine, he had to extend his 
protection of the Ninth Army's right 
flank by clearing a triangle of land be- 
tween the Erft and the Rhine extending 
northward from Cologne to the conflu- 
ence of the two rivers near Duessel- 
dorf. 1 

Bradley logically gave the assignment 
to the First Army's General Hodges for 
execution by Collins's VII Corps. Once 
the job was completed, the VII Corps 
was to take Cologne, then head south 



along the Rhine. As Collins turned 
south, other contingents of the First 
Army were to launch a narrow thrust 
from the vicinity of the road center of 
Euskirchen southeast to the Ahr River, 
there to converge with a thrust by the 
Third Army through the Eifel and cre- 
ate a pocket of trapped Germans in the 
northern reaches of the Eifel. 

Bradley's plan went by the code name, 
Lumberjack. 2 

Despite having relinquished units to 
flesh out the Ninth Army, the 12th Army 
Group still was a powerful force. In the 
First Army, General Hodges had twelve 
divisions (three of them armored) , plus 
another at reduced strength (the 106th) 
and two cavalry groups. In the Third 
Army, General Patton had ten divisions 
(including three armored) and two 
cavalry groups. While nondivisional ar- 
tillery was in no such strength as that 
which had helped the Ninth Army over 
the Roer, it was impressive nevertheless. 
Each corps in the First Army, for exam- 
ple, retained its usual attachments of 
four battalions of 155-mm. howitzers, 
two battalions of 155-mm. guns, and a 
battalion each of 4.5-inch guns and 8- 
inch howitzers. In deference to the role 
in Grenade, the VII Corps had two ad- 
ditional battalions — one light, one me- 
dium. The 32d Field Artillery Brigade 



'Ltr, Eisenhower to Bradley, 20 Feb 45, 12th 
AGp Military Objectives, 371.8, vol. VI. 



a Operation Lumberjack, Outline Plan, 33 Feb 
45, Hq 12th AGp. 



186 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



with two 8-inch gun and two 240-mm. 
howitzer battalions, operating under the 
First Army's control, assumed positions 
favoring the north wing. 3 

The breakdown of roads under the 
February thaw was of some concern to 
all but prompted few special measures 
except in the First Army where the two 
assault divisions of the VII Corps were 
authorized to accumulate five days' sup- 
ply of ammunition before jumping the 
Roer. Both armies were relatively close 
to major railheads — the Third Army to 
Luxembourg City and Thionville, the 
First Army to Liege — so that rail trans- 
port could handle much of the burden 
except for the last few miles to the front. 
Nor was either army so heavily engaged 
throughout February but that some sup- 
plies could be stockpiled. The First 
Army, for example, built up its Class 
III (gasoline) reserves from 1.8 days of 
supply to 6 days. Nevertheless, with the 
lesson of the 4th Division's supply prob- 
lems near Pruem in mind, General 
Bradley directed both armies to instruct 
division staffs in how to obtain emer- 
gency supply by air. He directed also 
prepackaging of vital supplies at various 
airfields for prompt loading if needed. 4 

Intelligence officers estimated approx- 
imately 40,000 Germans in front of the 
First Army and some 45,000 facing the 
Third Army. If the G-2's erred at all, 
they erred on the side of caution; as 
noted during the first fortnight in Feb- 
ruary in the pessimistic report of Field 
Marshal von Rundstedt, the Germans 
in all of Army Group B amounted to the 



3 FUSA Rpt of Opns, 23 Feb-8 May 45, p. 5; 
TUSA AAR, Feb-Mar 45. 
1 Ibid. 



equivalent of only six and a half full 
divisions. 5 

During late February, no major 
changes occurred in the German order 
of battle opposite the First and Third 
Armies except those occasioned by Op- 
eration Grenade and by the Third Ar- 
my's attacks in the Eifel and the Saar- 
Moselle triangle. Hit by the U.S. VII 
Corps in Grenade, the southernmost 
corps of Zangen's Fifteenth Army, 
Krueger's LVIII Panzer Corps (still mi- 
nus the armor the corps name implied) , 
had been pushed back, in some places 
behind the Erft River and Canal system. 
In continuing northeast after crossing 
the Erft, the VII Corps would strike the 
remnants of Koechling's LXXXI Corps 
and of Corps Bayerlein, the latter com- 
posed of what was left of the pth and 
nth Panzer Divisions after their piece- 
meal and futile commitment against 
Grenade. From a boundary with the 
Fifteenth Army immediately south of 
Dueren, Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army 
stood with three corps behind the Roer 
River and its upper tributaries while 
awaiting the shift in zones with the 
Fifteenth Army that was to come around 
1 March beginning with exchange of 
the two army commanders, Manteuffel 
and Zangen. Commanded at this point 
by General Felber, the Seventh Army 
stood behind the Pruem and Kyll Riv- 
ers, impotently awaiting continued 
strikes by the American Third Army. 

In reaching the Erft River late on 27 
February, General Collins's VII Corps 
had fulfilled its mission in Operation 
Grenade. Yet because of the added as- 
signment of guarding the Ninth Army's 
flank all the way to the Rhine, the corps 



5 For details, see above, ch. VIII. 



OPERATION LUMBERJACK 



187 



would make no pause at the Erft except 
that necessary to expand the bridgeheads 
established on the 27th and to put in 
bridges. By the end of the first day of 
March, the corps was beyond the Erft 
complex astride the main highways lead- 
ing from Juelich and Dueren to Co- 
logne. I (Map IX)\ Despite frantic efforts 
by German planes, usually operating 
singly, six class 40 bridges were in place 
across the Erft. 

Resistance was at most places light, 
mainly mortar fire and shells from rov- 
ing self-propelled guns. Only at Moed- 
rath, lying between the river and the 
canal, was the defense determined. 
There, a local defense force, reinforced 
by stragglers from units of the LVI1I 
Panzer Corps, held contingents of the 
8th Division's 121st Infantry at bay for 
two days until a battalion of the 28th 
Infantry crossed the Erft farther north 
and came in on the German flank. 6 

The conspicuous feature of the terrain 
immediately beyond the Erft, west and 
southwest of Cologne, is a low, plateau- 
like ridge some twenty-five miles long, 
the Vorgebirge. The slopes of the ridge 
are broken by numerous lignite ("brown 
coal") surface mines with steep, clifflike 
sides. Abandoned mines have filled 
with water to create big lakes, often con- 
fining passage to the width of the road- 
ways. Factories and heavily urbanized 
settlements abound. Northwest of Co- 
logne, the country is generally flat and 
pastoral, dotted with villages and small 
towns, particularly along the major 
highways radiating from Cologne. 

Because of the basic requirement of 
protecting the Ninth Army's flank, the 
VII Corps was to make its main effort 



north of Cologne, leaving the city to be 
taken later. General Collins split re- 
sponsibility for the assignment between 
General Rose's 3d Armored Division 
and the 99th Infantry Division (Maj. 
Gen. Walter E. Lauer) . 

The critical assignment went to the 
armor, beefed up during the opening 
phase of breaking out of the Erft bridge- 
head with attachment of the 99th Divi- 
sion's 395th Infantry. Rose was to strike 
north from the bridgehead to cut the 
Cologne-Muenchen-Gladbach highway 
at the town of Stommeln, thereby sever- 
ing a vital artery leading into the Ninth 
Army's flank, then was to turn northeast 
to reach the Rhine at Worringen, eight 
miles downstream from Cologne. A 
clear intent was to split the enemy's sec- 
tor swiftly and forestall reassembly and 
counterattack by remnants of the panzer 
divisions of Corps Bayerlein. Mean- 
while, General Lauer's infantry was to 
clear the ground between Rose's armor 
and the Erft with help from the 4th 
Cavalry Group, while the 8th and 104th 
Divisions on the corps right wing fought 
their way through the lignite mining 
district in the direction of Cologne. 7 

When the armor attacked before day- 
light on 2 March, all thrusts were suc- 
cessful, but they failed to precipitate 
immediate breakout. Conglomerate Ger- 
man units, mainly from the pth Panzer 
Division, fought back stubbornly behind 
antitank ditches and obstacles that made 
up an extension of the third line of 
field fortifications the Germans had pre- 
pared behind the Roer. The gains here 
were insufficient to have any effect on 
the counterattack projected for that day 
by the - nth Panzer Division into the 



6 8th Div AAR, Mar 45. 



7 VII Corps Opns Memo 163, 25 Feb 45; VII 
Corps FO 16, 1 Mar 45. 



188 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Ninth Army's flank; that failed to come 
off only because the Ninth Army's cap- 
ture of Muenchen-Gladbach prevented 
the Panzer Lehr Division from launch- 
ing its converging thrust. 8 

As night fell on 2 March, the armor 
had expanded the Erft bridgehead to a 
depth of three miles, which carried it 
beyond the northern reaches of the 
Vorgebirge into open country. From 
that point the Germans would be capa- 
ble only of delaying actions, almost al- 
ways in towns and villages since the flat 
terrain afforded few military features. 
Although reinforced from time to time 
by stragglers spilling across the Erft be- 
fore the steamroller of the Ninth Army, 
Corps Bayerlein had no depth. Con- 
glomerate forces usually including a few 
tanks or self-propelled guns would have 
to gauge their defense carefully to keep 
from being overrun in one village lest 
there be nothing left to defend the next 
one. 

That fact was demonstrated early on 
3 March when two task forces of Com- 
bat Command Hickey moved before 
dawn to take the Germans by surprise 
in two villages southwest of Stommeln. 9 
So complete was the surprise in the first 
village that the attacking armored in- 
fantrymen incurred not a single cas- 
ualty. At both villages the Germans 
were annihilated, leaving nobody to a 
final village still remaining short of 
Stommeln, the division's intermediate 
objective. 

Combat Command Howze moved 
against Stommeln from three sides. De- 
spite an extensive antitank minefield 
covered by a relatively strong concen- 

8 MS # B-soa (Mellenthin). See above, ch. IX. 
• The 3d Armored Division usually labeled its 
combat commands after their commanders. 



tration of antitank guns, the columns 
converged on the town in late afternoon. 
Aided by P-47 air strikes against the 
antitank defenses, they cleared the last 
resistance by nightfall. General Rose 
meanwhile sent a column from his re- 
serve, Combat Command Boudinot, be- 
yond Stommeln to a village just four 
miles from the Rhine. Only one more 
town lay between the armor and the 
final objective of Worringen. 

The 99th Division had made com- 
parable progress on the left, cutting the 
Cologne-Muenchen-Gladbach highway 
at several points late on 3 March. Nor 
was success confined to the left wing of 
the corps. Moving toward Cologne 
astride the Aachen-Cologne highway and 
the adjacent right-of-way of the uncom- 
pleted Aachen-Cologne autobahn, the 
104th Division made relatively short but 
nevertheless telling gains. 10 So did the 
8th Division, advancing astride the 
Dueren-Cologne highway. Bearing the 
additional responsibility of protecting 
the open right flank of the corps, the 8th 
Division had the slower going but still 
took the second row of towns beyond the 
Erft and gained a firm hold on western 
slopes of the Vorgebirge. The 104th 
Division cleared a big forest astride the 
Aachen-Cologne highway and crossed 
the crest of the Vorgebirge. 

Even though the 3d Armored Division 
still had several miles to go to reach the 
Rhine, the VII Corps commander, Gen- 



10 As the 104th Division prepared to attack before 
daylight on 2 March, a German shell struck the 
command post of the ?d Battalion, 414th Infantry, 
killing the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Joseph 
M. Cummins, Jr., and two visiting officers, Col. 
Anthony J. Touart, 414th Infantry commander, 
and Col. George A. Smith, Jr., assistant division 
commander. See Hoegh and Doyle, Timberwolf 
Tracks, p. 257. 



OPERATION LUMBERJACK 



189 



eral Collins, deemed it time to shift 
emphasis from the northward thrust to 
capturing Cologne. The armored divi- 
sion's advance already had split Corps 
Bayerlein from Koechling's LXXXI 
Corps j leaving the remnants of the lat- 
ter force as the only obstacle to taking 
Cologne. For two days the Ninth Ar- 
my's right flank had been anchored on 
the Rhine at Neuss, so that any threat 
remaining from the nth Panzer Division 
was minimal. Fighter pilots throughout 
the day had reported Germans scurrying 
across the Rhine on ferries and small 
craft, and more than 1,800 prisoners had 
entered VII Corps cages. 

Late on 3 March Collins told General 
Rose to continue to the Rhine at Wor- 
ringen the next day but at the same time 
to divert a force southeast against Co- 
logne. The attached 395th Infantry was 
to return to the 99th Division to enable 
the infantry division with the help of the 
4th Cavalry Group to clear all ground 
northwest of Worringen. 11 

Not waiting for a new day before con- 
tinuing to the Rhine, patrols of the 3d 
Armored's 83d Reconnaissance Battal- 
ion in early evening of 3 March deter- 
mined that the one town remaining 
short of Worringen on the Rhine was 
stoutly defended. Declining to give bat- 
tle, the reconnaissance battalion turned 
north over back roads, bypassed the 
town, and in the process captured an 
artillery battery and 300 surprised Ger- 
mans. Before daylight a 4-man patrol 
led by 1st Lt. Charles E. Coates reached 
the Rhine north of Worringen. A task 
force of Combat Command Boudinot 
then moved up the main road at dawn, 
cleared the defended town, repulsed a 



11 VII Corps Opns Memo 167, 3 Mar 45. 



counterattack by 200 infantry supported 
by five tanks, and drove on to Worrin- 
gen and the river. 

The 99th Division had continued to 
advance on the left in a manner indi- 
cating that the threat from what was left 
of Corps Bayerlein was empty. Un- 
known to the Americans, the splitting of 
Corps Bayerlein and the LXXXI Corps 
had resulted in the paper transfer of the 
tattered 9th Panzer Division to the 
LXXXI Corps, leaving only a Kampf- 
gruppe of the nth Panzer Division and 
stragglers of the 59th Infantry Division 
available to Bayerlein. These had pre- 
pared hasty defenses facing northwest 
toward the Ninth Army, so that the 99th 
Division was free to come in swiftly 
from flank and rear. In such a situation, 
Bayerlein, his staff, and the nth Panzer 
Division were thinking less of fighting 
than of escaping across the Rhine. 12 

Despite Hitler's refusal of every re- 
quest to withdraw, most supporting 
units by evening of 3 March had already 
crossed the river, and the nth Panzer 
Division held only a small bridgehead 
on the west bank north of Worringen. 
Lacking authority to withdraw, General 
Bayerlein saw the little bridgehead as 
"the end of the world." 13 On 5 March 
approval finally came to pull back. 
Through the day rear guards fought 
hard to hold open two ferry sites; and 
as night came, the last contingents of 
Corps Bayerlein pushed out into the 
stream. 

On this same day, 5 March, the attack 
of the VII Corps against Cologne got 
going in earnest. The framework upon 
which the thin fabric of defense of Ger- 
many's fourth largest city was hung was 

12 MS # B-053 (Bayerlein). 

13 Ibid. 



190 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




The Demolished Hohenzollern Bridge at Cologne with cathedral in the 
background. 



General Koechling's LXXXI Corps, 
now heading the staffs and the few other 
remains of the pth Panzer, 363d Volks 
Grenadier, and 3d Panzer Grenadier 
Divisions. Koechling was to use what was 
left of those three units — the equivalent 
of two weak regiments — to defend a so- 
called outer ring in the city's suburbs, 
while policemen, firemen, and anybody 
else who could pull the trigger of a rifle 
fought from an inner ring deep within 
the city. Among the defenders of the 
inner ring were the Volkssturm, a levy 
of old men and youths Hitler had or- 



dered to rally to the last-ditch defense 
of the Reich. 14 

As the 3rd Armored, 104th, and 8th 
Divisions drove toward Cologne on 5 
March, resistance was strongest in the 
north, where General Rose's armor 
faced the seemingly ineradicable pth 
Panzer Division, and in the south where 
the 8th Division at the end of the day 
still was two miles short of the city 
limits. The relatively slow progress of 
the 8th Division reflected not only the 



"MS # B-802 (Mellenthin). 



OPERATION LUMBERJACK 



191 



difficulties of attacking through the coal- 
mining district but also the fact that the 
division was striking the north flank of 
the LVIII Panzer Corps. 

The armor nevertheless broke into 
Cologne soon after daylight, to be fol- 
lowed two hours later by the 104th Di- 
vision from the west. In a precursor of 
what was to come as Allied armies fanned 
out all across Germany, the stiffest fight 
developed around an airfield where the 
Germans turned sixteen stationary 88- 
mm. antiaircraft guns against the tanks 
of Combat Command Hickey. The 
tanks finally eliminated the guns in 
smoke-screened cavalrylike charge. Al- 
most all resistance by the gth Panzer Di- 
vision collapsed a short while later when 
the division commander, Generalmajor 
Harald Freiherr von Elverfeldt, was 
killed. 15 

As evening approached, the First 
Army commander, General Hodges, 
shifted the southern boundary of the VII 
Corps to the southeast to provide room 
for the 8th Division to drive to the 
Rhine south of Cologne and cut the en- 
emy's last landward escape route. 16 The 
next day, 6 March, the 3d Armored 
drove quickly through the heart of the 
city, a wasteland from long years of 
aerial bombardment, and reached the 
Hohenzollern bridge, only to find a 
1200-foot gap blown in it. Close by amid 
the sea of ruins stood the stately Cologne 
cathedral, damaged but basically intact. 

By noon of 7 March almost all of 
Cologne had been cleared, despite 
curious crowds of civilians jamming the 
rubble-strewn streets. No road or rail 
crossing of the Rhine remained. A bat- 



" Ibid. 

"VII Corps G-3 Jnl, 5 Mar 45. 



talion of the 8th Division's 28th Infan- 
try meanwhile reached the river south 
of Cologne. For the third time in less 
than a fortnight, the enemy's forces were 
split. The remnants of the LVIII Pan- 
zer Corps, along with contingents of the 
3d Panzer Grenadier Division, which 
had fallen back southward away from 
Cologne, formed a last-ditch defense 
across an eastward bend of the Rhine 
but began to evacuate the position early 
the next morning. 17 

General Collins and his VII Corps 
had completed their assigned role in the 
drive to the Rhine in exactly two weeks, 
at once a spearhead for the First Army 
and protection for the flank of the Ninth 
Army. In operations begun on 25 Feb- 
ruary, only two days after the VII Corps 
had assaulted the Roer River line, other 
parts of the First Army meanwhile had 
joined the race to the Rhine. 

Toward Bonn and Remagen 

The operations had begun with lim- 
ited goals, though with the certainty that 
they later would be expanded. The plan 
was to uncover the line of the upper 
Roer, protect Collins's VII Corps during 
its added assignment beyond the Erft, 
and at the same time gain a leg on the 
drive to the Rhine. 

General Hodges directed General 
Millikin's III Corps, which had joined 
the First Army in the reorganization 
that followed halting of the main effort 
in the Eifel, to cross the Roer south of 
Dueren and reach the Erft River north- 
ward from the road center of Euskirchen. 
When the VII Corps turned to take 

17 MSS # B-202 (Mellenthin); # B-080 (Lang- 
haeuser); # B-og8, }}}d Infantry Division, 2-22 
March 1945 (Oberst Kurt Hummel, CG). 



192 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Cologne, the III Corps was to cross the 
Erft and drive southeast to converge with 
the Third Army "in the Ahrweiler 
area," the first basic objective of Brad- 
ley's Operation Lumberjack. The two 
corps then were to clear the west bank 
of the Rhine from the Ahr River to 
Cologne. General Huebner's V Corps at 
the same time was to advance its left 
wing as far as Euskirchen to protect the 
south flank of the III Corps and to "pre- 
pare for further advance to the east." 18 

Confronted with the swollen, closely 
confined waters of the Roer tumbling 
headlong through the gorge upstream 
from Dueren, General Hodges devised a 
crossing plan that avoided another 
frontal joust with the river. He directed 
a division of the III Corps to use bridges 
of the VII Corps at Dueren, then attack 
south to clear bridge sites upstream. Each 
division in the corps in turn was to use 
the neighboring division's bridges, re- 
peating the attack to the south to clear 
additional bridge sites. A division of the 
V Corps finally was to use bridges of the 
III Corps to get beyond the waters of 
the Roer reservoirs. 19 

Two battalions of the ist Division 
started the maneuver in midmorning of 
25 February, a few hours after the 8th 
Division announced a footbridge and a 
Bailey bridg e available at Dueren. (See 
\Map VIII.) Crossing in the sector of the 
adjacent division not only avoided frontal 
attack across the Roer, it also enabled at- 
tached tanks and tank destroyers to cross 
with the infantry and lend weight to the 
drive upstream that took the Germans of the 
353d Infantry Division of Krueger's LVIII 



18 FUSA Rpt of Opns, 23 Feb-8 May 45, p. 12. 
19 Sylvan Diary, entry of 24 Feb 45. 



General Millikin 



Panzer Corps in flank. At noon one of the 
infantry battalions attacked the Roer town 
of Kreuzau and made such progress that 
forty minutes later engineer units that had 
been waiting impatiently in the wings west 
of the river began building a footbridge 
within the ist Division's sector. 

As night came on 25 February, the 
1st Division's bridgehead already was 
firmly established without the loss of a 
man in the actual crossing of the river. 
The infantry battalions of two regiments 
were across, and forward positions were 
as much as a mile and a half beyond the 
river. 

The next day, 26 February, as the 1st 
Division expanded its bridgehead with 
emphasis on gaining more of the east 
bank of the Roer upstream to the south, 
engineers put in a Bailey bridge that 



OPERATION LUMBERJACK 



193 



enabled the 9th Division's 39th Infantry 
to repeat the river crossing maneuver in 
late afternoon. Before daylight on 27 
February, men of the 9th Division at- 
tacked south to clear their own bridge 
sites at Nideggen, picturesquely located 
on the rim of the Cologne plain over- 
looking the gorge of the Roer and the 
road leading back to Schmidt and the 
Roer dams. Resistance was firmer than 
that faced by the 1st Division, mainly 
because the 9th Division had crossed 
into the sector of General Puechler's 
LXXIV Corps and encountered a rela- 
tively battle- worthy unit, the 3d Para- 
chute Division. Having undergone a 
hasty reorganization following the Ar- 
dennes counteroffensive, the division 
contained its full complement of three 
parachute regiments, though all were 
understrength. 20 

The 78th Division's 311th Infantry 
crossed the Roer on the last day of Feb- 
ruary through the 9th Division's sector 
and immediately attacked to the south, 
covering more than a mile against the 
2j2d Volks Grenadier Division. This 
completed the river-crossing maneuver 
in the III Corps, but as the 78th Division 
created its own bridgehead plans pro- 
ceeded for the V Corps to follow a simi- 
lar procedure for getting beyond the 
Roer reservoirs. 

The III Corps commander, General 
Millikin, had moved quickly to get his 
armor into the fight as soon as the in- 
hospitable terrain of the Eifel lay behind. 
CCB of the 9th Armored Division (Maj. 
Gen. John W. Leonard) was to attack 
east between the 1st and 9th Divisions to 
reach the Erft several miles downstream 

^III Corps AAR, Feb 45; MS # B-118, LXXIV 
Corps, 2 October 1944-23 March 1945 (General der 
Infanterie Karl Puechler). 



from Euskirchen, while CCA was to 
move south and enter the zone of the 
78th Division, then turn east, oriented 
generally toward Euskirchen. CCA was 
to be joined later by the rest of the 
armored division operating in a "zone of 
advance" within the sector of the late- 
running 78th Division. The 14th Cavalry 
Group was to follow CCA and protect 
the south flank of the corps. 21 

Attacking in early afternoon of 28 
February, CCB before daylight the next 
morning came abreast of the most ad- 
vanced battalions of the 1st Division 
along the Neffel Creek, half the 15-mile 
distance from Roer to Erft. Beginning 
its attack a day later on 1 March, CCA 
smacked almost immediately into a de- 
fensive position lying behind the upper 
reaches of the Neffel Creek and barring 
the way to the village of Wollersheim. 
Manned by troops of the 3d Parachute 
Division, the position was reinforced by 
several tanks and assault guns. 22 When 
an attack by dismounted armored infan- 
trymen failed to carry it, CCA held up 
for the night to await arrival the next 
morning of an infantry battalion from 
the 78th Division. 

On the second day of March genuine 
exploitation developed all along the 
front of the III Corps. A double envelop- 
ment by CCA's 52d Armored Infantry 
Battalion and an attached battalion of 
the 3 1 oth Infantry carried the sticky po- 
sition at Wollersheim, while the 309th 
Infantry put the 78th Division into the 
eastward drive and came almost abreast 
of CCA. Those two advances brought an 
end to solid defense by the enemy's 3d 
Parachute Division. Already the 353d 

21 III Corps Opnl Dir # 4, 28 Feb 45. 

22 III Corps AAR, Mar 45; MS # B-118 (Puech- 
ler). 



194 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Infantry Division in the north and the 
2"j2d Volks Grenadier Division, the lat- 
ter trying to prevent expansion of the 
78th Division's bridgehead to the south, 
were reduced to executing isolated de- 
laying actions. 

The commander of the LXXIV Corps, 
General Puechler, had. nothing left to 
use in the fight except a weak Kampf- 
gruppe of the 62d Volks Grenadier Di- 
vision, which had been reorganizing 
behind the line when the American 
attack began. He sent that force to the 
north to try to maintain contact with the 
faltering LVIII Panzer Corps, but so 
weak was the Kampjgruppe that the at- 
tacking American troops hardly noticed 
its presence. 23 

The 1st Division on the 2d got within 
three miles of the Erft, while in the 
center, the gth Armored's CCB crossed 
the river along the Euskirchen-Cologne 
highway. Following in the wake of CCB, 
one regiment of the gth Division ap- 
proached within two miles of the Erft. 

To many a soldier in the Til Corps, 
this day and those immediately follow- 
ing could be summed up in two words: 
mud and fatigue. As light snow flurries 
ended in midmorning, a warm sun 
triggered a latent springtime in the soil 
and turned roads and fields into clinging 
mud. The mud and daytime attacks 
alone would have been enough to pro- 
duce fatigue, but hardly was there a 
commander who did not continue to 
push his men through much of the night 
in order to overcome the advantage that 
flat, open fields afforded the enemy in 
observation. 

At command levels, 2 March and the 



three days following brought preoccupa- 
tion with boundary changes and juggling 
of units as General Bradley's original 
plan for clearing the west bank of the 
Rhine underwent revision. Prompted by 
the relative ease with which Millikin's 
III Corps was advancing, the change 
limited responsibility of Collins's VII 
Corps to the city of Cologne while the 
III Corps was to clear the west bank of 
the Rhine throughout the rest of the 
First Army's zone from Cologne to the 
Ahr River. At the same time the III 
Corps retained responsibility for crossing 
the Ahr and establishing contact with 
the Third Army. 24 

The first shift came on 2 March when 
General Millikin transferred the 14th 
Cavalry Group to his north flank for 
attachment to the 1st Division in antici- 
pation of broadening the 1st Division's 
sector, The boundary change became ef- 
fective the next day, 3 March, as the 26th 
Infantry jumped the Erft and began to 
climb the Vorgebirge, southwest of Co- 
logne, seven miles from the Rhine. 
While the gth Armored's CCB held in 
place on the Erft, awaiting relief by 
units of the 1st Division, CCA took the 
ancient walled town of Zuelpich against 
little more than a show of resistance. At 
the end of the day General Millikin 
assigned the armor a specific zone be- 
tween the gth and 78th Divisions. 

Despite the importance Bradley and 
the First Army's General Hodges at- 
tached to gaining bridgeheads over the 
Ahr River for linkup with the Third 
Army, it was obvious from orders issued 
by Millikin and his division commanders 
that the fabled Rhine was the more ir- 



23 III Corps AAR, Mar 45; MS # B-118 (Puech- 
ler). 



21 12th AGp Ltr of Instrs 16, 3 Mar 45, isth AGp 
Rpt of Opns, vol. V, 



OPERATION LUMBERJACK 



195 



resistible attraction. 25 The ist Division 
was to reach the river north of Bonn, the 
gth Division to take Bonn, and one col- 
umn of the 9th Armored to come up to 
the Rhine midway between Bonn and 
the Ahr. Only one column of the 
armored division, protected on the south 
flank by the 78th Division operating in 
a confined sector, was directed toward the 
Ahr. 

The emphasis on the Rhine around 
Bonn coincided with expectations of the 
German army group commander, Field 
Marshal Model. Believing the main ef- 
fort of the III Corps to be directed at 
Bonn, Model began to make ambitious 
but futile plans to reinforce the city 
with the nth Panzer Division once that 
division had withdrawn from the tri- 
angle between Erft and Rhine north of 
Cologne, and even to counterattack with 
the panzer division. 28 

The Fifteenth Army commander, Gen- 
eral von Zangen, responsible now for 
this sector, saw it another way. In driving 
to the Erft, Zangen might note, the III 
Corps had cleared the cup of a funnel 
delineated on one side by the Eifel, on 
the other by the Vorgebirge. The obvi- 
ous move at this point, Zangen believed, 
was a drive down the spout of the funnel 
from Euskirchen southeast of Rheinbach 
and the Ahr River, thence along the 
north bank of the Ahr to the Rhine at 
Sinzig and the nearby town of Remagen. 

The town of Remagen was of particu- 
lar importance because of the location 
there of a railroad bridge that was being 
covered with a plank flooring for motor 

55 Even though the First Army G-3 had made it 
clear otherwise. See Memo, sub: Resume of In- 
structions From General Thorson, G-3 First U.S. 
Army, 28 Feb 45, III Corps G-3 Jnl file, 28 Feb- 
1 Mar 45. 

28 MS # B-828 (Zangen). 



traffic to provide a vital supply artery 
for the Fifteenth Army. To block the 
way to Remagen, Zangen asked permis- 
sion to withdraw his LXVI and LXVII 
Corps from the Eifel, where they faced 
entrapment even if they succeeded in the 
apparently impossible task of holding 
their West Wall positions. To this Model 
said no. The two corps were to continue 
to hold in conformity with Hitler's long- 
standing orders to relinquish no portion 
of the West Wall without a fight. If 
forced back, Puechler's LXXIV Corps 
was to gravitate toward Bonn. 27 

To Zangen and any other German 
commander on the scene, probably in- 
cluding Model himself, the absurdity of 
further attempts to hold west of the 
Rhine was all too apparent. The only 
hope was quick withdrawal to save as 
much as possible to fight another day on 
the east bank. 28 

Puechler's LXXIV Corps provided an 
obvious case in point. What was left 
of the corps was incapable of a real 
fight for even such an important ob- 
jective as Euskirchen, a road center 
yielded after only "light resistance" 
to the 9th Armored Division's CCA on 
4 March. Seldom could counterattacks 
be mounted in greater than company 
strength and usually they had no artil- 
lery support. Furthermore, the corps 
was split as continued advances by the 
78th Division on the south wing of the 
III Corps forced back the 2j2d Folks 
Grenadier Division onto the neighbor- 
ing LXVII Corps. The split became ir- 
reparable when on 3 March the 2d 



27 Ibid. 

28 This theme runs through all German manu- 
scripts for the period. Even allowing for postwar 
extenuation, it can hardfy be questioned except in 
degree. 



196 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Infantry Division of the V Corps crossed 
the 78th Division's Roer bridges and 
headed south through the Eifel toward 
Gemuend at the head of the Roer res- 
ervoir system. 29 

The boundary adjustments on the 
American side continued on 5 March 
when General Hodges made the change 
that allowed the 8th Division of the VII 
Corps to drive to the Rhine south of 
Cologne. Late the same evening Hodges 
also adjusted the boundary between the 
III and V Corps, turning it distinctly 
southeast to a point on the Ahr upstream 
from Ahrweiler, thereby providing the 
III Corps over ten miles of frontage on 
the Ahr. 

Those two moves eliminated any lin- 
gering misconception about the impor- 
tance Bradley and Hodges attached to 
crossing the Ahr River. Early the next 
day General Millikin shifted all his di- 
vision objectives to the southeast — the 
1st Division to Bonn, the 9th Division 
to Bad Godesberg, the 9th Armored Di- 
vision to Remagen and the Ahr from 
Sinzig to Bad Neuenahr, and the 78th 
Division to Ahrweiler. When the 9th 
Armored's G-3, Lt. Col. John S. Grow- 
don, telephoned to ask whether the 
armor should continue to make its main 
effort toward the Rhine, the III Corps 
G-3, Col. Harry C. Mewshaw, replied 
unequivocally that the Rhine was of 
secondary importance. The main goal, 
he said, was "to seize towns and cross- 
ings over the Ahr River." 30 

Patton in the Eifel 

The force that was to link with troops 
of the First Army along the Ahr, Patton's 

20 Quotation is from III Corps AAR, Mar 45. 
80 III Corps G-3 Jnl file, 6-^7 Mar 45. 



Third Army, had made a start on the 
assignment in late February and the first 
days of March with the "probing attacks" 
that captured Trier and advanced the 
VIII Corps to the Pruem River and the 
XII Corps to the Kyll. The decision 
General Patton faced then — whether to 
turn southeast and envelop the Saar in- 
dustrial area or to head through the 
Eifel to the Rhine — the army group 
commander, General Bradley, already 
had made for him. The goal was the 
Rhine. 

On the assumption that this job would 
be soon done, Patton planned a second- 
ary attack to set the stage for clearing the 
Saar. To General Walker's XX Corps, 
he assigned a narrow one-division zone 
north of the Moselle running from the 
Kyll to one of the big northward loops 
of the Moselle, some thirty-six miles 
downstream from Trier. The zone en- 
closed a shallow depression lying be- 
tween the high ground of the Mosel 
Berge, which parallels the Moselle, and 
the main Eifel massif. Clearing it would 
provide access to the transverse valley 
leading to the Moselle at the picturesque 
wine center of Bernkastel and thence 
into the heart of the Saarland. 31 

To General Bradley's protest that the 
Third Army was spreading its forces too 
thin and would be unable to make a 
"power drive" to the Rhine, Patton re- 
plied that the terrain and the roadnet in 
the Eifel permitted a power drive by no 
more than two divisions in any case. 32 
The VIII and XII Corps faced the Hohe 
Eifel, the high or volcanic Eifel, a region 
even more rugged in places than the 

31 TUSA Opnl Dir, 3 Mar 45; XX Corps AAR, 
Mar 45. For further mention of this attack, see 
below, ch. XII. 

32 Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 252. 



OPERATION LUMBERJACK 



197 



western reaches of the Eifel that the 
corps already had conquered. There, in 
an effort to overcome the weird convolu- 
tions of the land, the limited roads gen- 
erally follow the low ground along the 
stream beds, somehow eventually ending 
up at the Ahr, the Rhine, or the Moselle. 
If the Third Army in this kind of ter- 
rain was to hope to keep pace with the 
First Army on the open Cologne plain, 
daring would have to be a major part of 
of the plan. 

When the Third Army's long-term 
ally, the XIX Tactical Air Command, 
reported that the enemy already showed 
evidence of withdrawing and probably 
would limit his stands to blocking posi- 
tions along the roads, that was all Patton 
needed. He ordered that, once the VIII 
and XII Corps had established bridge- 
heads over the Kyll, an armored division 
of each corps was to thrust rapidly north- 
eastward along the better roads without 
regard to the wooded heights in between. 
Artillery and fighter-bombers were to 
take care of the high ground until motor- 
ized infantry could follow to secure the 
gains. 33 

Since General Bradley's plan for Op- 
eration Lumberjack had put the burden 
of linking the First and Third Armies 
along the Ahr River on the First Army, 
General Patton was free to think pri- 
marily in terms of reaching the Rhine. 
He directed Middleton's VIII Corps to 
gain the river around Brohl, midway be- 
tween the Ahr and the ancient Rhine 
town of Andernach, while the XII Corps 
(commanded again by General Eddy 
after return from a brief leave) came up 
to the river at Andernach. 

When Patton's order came, the VIII 



83 XIX TAC AAR, Mar 45. 



Corps stood generally along the Pruem 
River, still some ten miles short of the 
Kyll. As a corollary to successful clearing 
of the Vianden bulge, the 6th Cavalry 
Group and the 6th Armored Division 
had made substantial advances beyond 
the Pruem, but they were in the south 
of the corps zone, relatively far from 
the main roads leading to the Rhine at 
Brohl. Besides, the 6th Armored was ear- 
marked for early transfer to the SHAEF 
reserve, that irritating outgrowth of the 
Ardennes counteroffensive that seemed 
constantly to be plaguing some unit of 
the Third Army. Thus Middleton or- 
dered the 4th Division at the town of 
Pruem to enlarge its bridgehead over the 
Pruem River, whereupon the 11th Ar- 
mored Division was to pass through and 
strike due east to jump the Kyll, then 
strike northeast to the Rhine. The 4th 
Division was to follow to mop up, the 
87th Division was to protect the north 
flank, and the 90th Division, taking the 
place of the 6th Armored, was to ad- 
vance on the south wing. 34 

With units of the XII Corps already 
up to the Kyll, General Eddy gave the 
job of forging a bridgehead to an infan- 
try division, the 5th; then the 4th 
Armored Division was to pass through to 
drive northeast to Andernach. The 5th 
Division and the 80th were to follow, 
while the 76th Division protected the 
right flank. 35 

On the enemy side, it was an under- 
statement to say that German com- 
manders viewed the pending Third 
Array offensive with anxiety, since the 
February attacks in the Eifel already had 

34 VIII Corps Opnl Memos 26 and 27, 1 and a 
Mar 45; VIII Corps G—3 Jnl file, 1-3 Mar 45. 

35 XII Corps Opns Dirs 83 and 84, 1 and 2 Mar 
45- 



198 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



severely lacerated General Felber's Sev- 
enth Army. How long the Seventh Army 
could hold in the Eifel depended entirely 
on how soon and how vigorously the 
Americans attacked. 

A breakthrough across the Kyll could 
prove fatal, not only to the Seventh Army 
itself but to the two corps (LXVI and 
LXVII) forming the center and south 
wing of the Fifteenth Army and to the 
entire First Army, the north wing of 
Hausser's Army Group G. Should the 
First and Third U.S. Armies quickly 
join along the west bank of the Rhine, 
the two corps of the Fifteenth Army 
would be encircled. In the process, the 
Third Army's clearing of the north bank 
of the Moselle would expose from the 
rear the West Wall pillboxes in the Saar- 
land, still held by the First Army. 

A partial solution, as the Seventh 
Army's General Felber saw it, was for the 
Seventh Army to withdraw from the 
Eifel and protect Army Group G's rear 
by defending the line of the Moselle; but 
in view of Hitler's continuing stand-fast 
orders, nobody higher up the ladder of 
command took the proposal seriously. 
The only change made was to transfer 
the faltering Seventh Army on 2 March 
from Model's Army Group B to Haus- 
ser's Army Group G. By vesting control 
in the army group headquarters that had 
most to lose should the Seventh Army 
collapse, the change inferred some 
strengthening of the Seventh Army by 
Army Group G. In reality, it merely 
shifted from one army group headquar- 
ters to another the dolorous task of pre- 
siding over the Seventh Army's agony. 

From confluence of the Kyll and the 
Moselle near Trier to a point near 
Pruem, the Seventh Army's zone covered 
some thirty-five miles. The most seriously 



threatened part, General Felber believed, 
was the center opposite Bitburg, for 
there stood the U.S. 4th Armored Di- 
vision, a unit looked upon with consid- 
erable respect by German commanders. 

With this in mind, Felber shifted to 
the sector headquarters of the XIII 
Corps on the premise that the corps com- 
mander, General von Oriola, having only 
recently arrived at the front, would be 
steadier under the coming crisis than 
would General von Rothkirch, com- 
mander of the LIII Corps, who for weeks 
had been watching his command disinte- 
grate. Thus the new lineup of corps from 
north to south was the LIII Corps (Roth- 
kirch) near Pruem, the XIII Corps 
(Oriola) opposite Bitburg, and the 
LXXX Corps (Beyer) between Bitburg 
and the Moselle. 

The Seventh Army contained, nomi- 
nally, ten divisions, but only two — rem- 
nants of the 2d Panzer Division east of 
Bitburg and the 246th Folks Grenadier 
Division, the latter hurried down from 
what was now the Fifteenth Army's sec- 
tor too late to save Bitburg — could 
muster much more than a small Kampf- 
gruppe. Both divisions were to remain 
with the XIII Corps in keeping with the 
theory that Patton's main thrust would 
be made there with the 4th Armored 
Division. Because the attack by the U.S. 
VIII Corps would spill over the Seventh 
Army's northern boundary against the 
extreme south wing of the Fifteenth 
Army, another division with some credit- 
able fighting power remaining, the 5th 
Parachute Division of the LXVI Corps 
(Lucht), also would be involved. Neither 
the Seventh Army nor the Fifteenth 
Army had any reserves, although the 
Seventh did possess a separate tank bat- 
talion with some ten to fifteen Tiger 



OPERATION LUMBERJACK 



199 



tanks. This battalion General Felber 
wanted to send to his center opposite 
Bitburg, but he would still be searching 
for sufficient gasoline to move the tanks 
from a field repair shop in the sector of 
the LIII Corps when the American at- 
tack began. 36 

Because of the requirement to get 
from the Pruem River to the Kyll, Gen- 
eral M iddleton's VIII Corps began to 
attack first. Indeed, since the south wing 
of the corps had never stopped attacking 
after clearing the Vianden bulge and 
since the XX Corps and the 76th Di- 
vision of the XII Corps still were giving 
the coup de grace to Trier as the month 
of March opened, no real pause devel- 
oped between the February probing at- 
tacks and the March offensive. 

For the 4th Infantry Division, enlarg- 
ing its minuscule bridgehead over the 
Pruem to enable the 11th Armored Di- 
vision to pass through, the task was no 
pushover, primarily because of the pres- 
ence of the enemy's 5th Parachute Di- 
vision. Given some respite since the 
American drive on Pruem had bogged 
down on 10 February, the Germans de- 
fended from well-organized positions and 
employed unusually large numbers of 
machine guns. So determined was the 
resistance that General Middleton at one 
point postponed the target date for the 
armored exploitation twenty-four hours, 
although subsequent gains prompted 
him to reinstate it for the original date 
of 3 March. Nor was stanch resistance 
confined to the sector of the 4th Division. 
Protecting the corps left flank by re- 



30 German material comes primarily from MSS 
# B-831 (Felber); # B-828 (Zangen); # B-123 
(Gersdorff); and # B-797, LIII Corps, 27 February 
-10 March 1945 (Oberst Werner Bodenstein, Opns 
Officer LIII Corps). 



ducing West Wall pillboxes on the 
Schnee Eifel ridge, the 87th Division 
found that the fortifications still put con- 
siderable starch into the defense. 

Passing through the infantry shortly 
after midday on 3 March, Combat Com- 
mand B of the 1 1 th Armored Division 
attacked to seize crossings of the Kyll in 
a big bend of the river north of Gerol- 
stein, some eleven miles northeast of 
Pruem. Delayed by confusion in the 
passage of lines, the armor failed to ad- 
vance the first afternoon as much as two 
miles. It was nevertheless apparent that 
the Germans could muster no real 
strength short of the Kyll once the tanks 
got rolling. By late afternoon the next 
day, 4 March, the combat command 
overlooked the Kyll from heights a mile 
southwest of Gerolstein, but patrols sent 
down to the river drew intense small 
arms fire from both the east bank and 
from high ground in the bend of the 
river. Antitank and artillery fire also 
rained from the east bank in disturbing 
volume. 

Having followed the path of least 
resistance, the armor had come up to 
the Kyll south of its intended crossing 
site at a point where troops trying to 
cross would be exposed to fire not only 
from dominating ground beyond the 
river but from the big bend as well. 
Impressed both by the terrain and the 
amount of German fire and apparently 
reluctant to risk involving the armor in 
what could be a time-consuming river- 
crossing operation, the division com- 
mander, General Kilburn, asked for 
infantry help. While the 4th Division 
cleared the high ground in the bend of 
the Kyll, Kilburn suggested, CCB might 
swing to the north and cross the river 
north of the bend. 



200 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Although the corps commander, Gen- 
eral Middleton, approved, the maneuver 
took time, particularly when determined 
Germans, again mainly from the 5th 
Parachute Division; kept a regiment of 
the 4th Division out of the bend in the 
river through much of 5 March. By 6 
March, the fourth day after passing 
through the 4th Division, CCB did get 
some troops across the Kyll, but only 
armored infantry supported by a smat- 
tering of tanks and tank destroyers that 
managed to cross at a ford before the 
river bed gave way. 

Even with a foothold already estab- 
lished on the east bank, General Kilburn 
remained reluctant to commit his armor 
to the river crossing operation. Again 
he prevailed on General Middleton for 
permission to use infantry of the 4 th 
Division. Only after the infantrymen had 
expanded CCB's foothold were the tanks 
and tank destroyers to renew the drive 
toward the Rhine. 

/While the armor dallied, less con- 
servative forces elsewhere in the VIII 
Corps rapidly rewrote the entire script 
for crossing the Kyll. Assigned to protect 
lihe left flank of the corps, the 87 th Di- 
vision went a step further, overtook the 
armored spearhead, and jumped the Kyll 
just after midday of the 6th on a bridge 
captured intact. The 90th Division, com- 
manded now by Brig. Gen. Herbert L. 
Earnest and committed on 2 March on 
the corps south wing to relieve the 6th 
Armored Division, scored an even more 
striking advance. At the point on the 
Kyll southwest of Gerolstein that Gen- 
eral Kilburn earlier had spurned as a 
crossing site, a task force organized 
around the division reconnaissance troop 
and two attached medium tank com- 
panies jumped the river before daylight 



on 6 March. At the same time, men of 
the 359th Infantry crossed a few hundred 
yards to the south. By late afternoon 
contingents of the 90th Division had 
taken Gerolstein and established a 
bridgehead over a mile and a half deep 
and some two and a half miles wide. 

General Middleton in early evening 
ordered General Kilburn to alert a sec- 
ond combat command, CCA, to cross the 
Kyll through the 90th Division's bridge- 
head. In the end, CCB also would back- 
track and use the 90th Division's crossing 
site. 

Just before daylight on 7 March, engi- 
neers of the 90th Division — having 
worked with the aid of searchlights — 
opened a Bailey bridge over the Kyll. In 
midmorning, CCA began to cross. The 
11th Armored Division at last might get 
started in earnest on an exploitation that 
was to have proceeded without interrup- 
tion beginning five days earlier. Yet Kil- 
burn's men would have to hurry if again 
they were not to be overtaken by events 
precipitated by more audacious units, for 
to the south, opposite Bitburg, General 
Eddy's XII Corps had struck in a man- 
ner not to be denied. 

Veterans of many a river-crossing op- 
eration, infantrymen of the 5th Division 
sent patrols across the Kyll before day- 
light on 3 March, then threw in foot- 
bridges to allow the bulk of two 
battalions to cross near Metterich, due 
east of Bitburg. Fanning out to the high 
ground, the infantry cleared Metterich 
before nightfall, while engineers put in 
a vehicular bridge before daylight on the 
4th. Except against the crossings them- 
selves, the Germans reacted strongly, at 
one point launching a determined 
counterattack supported by three tanks, 
apparently from the 2d Panzer Division, 



OPERATION LUMBERJACK 



201 



but to no avail. By dark on 4 March, the 
bridgehead was ready for exploitation. It 
was only a question of when General 
Patton chose to turn the 4th Armored 
Division loose. 

Patton, Eddy, and the armored di- 
vision commander, General Gaffey, had 
only one real concern: weather. Days of 
alternating rain and rapidly melting 
snow, freeze and thaw, already had 
wreaked havoc on the generally poor 
roads of the Eifel, and continued precipi- 
tation could severely crimp the plan for 
the armor to drive boldly forward on the 
roads, leaving the ground in between to 
air and artillery. Yet weather alone was 
hardly sufficient reason to delay the ex- 
ploitation. The armor got set to move at 
daylight the next day, 5 March. 

General Gaffey's orders were explicit. 
Passing through the 5th Division's 
bridgehead, two combat commands were 
to drive north for some eight miles over 
parallel roads in rear of the enemy's Kyll 
River defenses. Having sliced the under- 
pinnings from much of the XIII Corps 
and part of the LIII Corps, the armor 
was to swerve northeast near the village 
of Oberstadtfeld (five and a half miles 
southeast of Gerolstein) and head for the 
Rhine near Andernach, there to seize 
any bridges that might still stand. 37 

Combat Command B in the lead 
quickly began to roll. As the tanks ap- 
proached the first village north of the 
5th Division's forward line, artillery and 
rocket fire ranged near the column; but 
the tanks roared ahead. A contingent of 
Germans in the village threw hands high 
in surrender. Although rain, snow flur- 
ries, and overcast denied any tactical air 



37 XII Corps FO 15, 2 Mar 45; 4th Armored Div 
FO 12, 3 Mar 45. 



support, the armor quickly picked up 
speed. The combat command's reports 
of the day's advance soon began to read 
like a bus or railroad timetable — 0845: 
Orsfeld; 1135: Steinborn; 1350: Meis- 
burg; and at the end of the day: Weiden- 
bach, twelve miles northeast of the 
bridge over which the armor had crossed 
the Kyll. 

In one day CCB's tankers had broken 
through the north wing of Oriola's XIII 
Corps, plunged deep into the south wing 
of Rothkirch's LIII Corps, and sent over 
a thousand Germans straggling back to 
prisoner-of-war compounds. The fighting 
at day's end at Weidenbach emerged 
from a desperate effort by General von- 
Rothkirch to delay the advance with the 
only reserve he could assemble, a Nebel- 
werfer brigade. Draining the last drops 
of fuel from command cars and other 
vehicles, Rothkirch managed also to send 
toward Weidenbach a few of the Tiger 
tanks that had been languishing in a 
repair shop, but they failed to arrive 
during the night and were destined to 
be shot up individually in the next day's 
fighting. 

Rothkirch also ordered the 340th 
Volks Grenadier Division, continuing to 
hold positions along the Kyll west of the 
American penetration, to escape during 
the night along a secondary road still 
open north of Weidenbach. Counting on 
the Americans' calling off the war during 
the night, Rothkirch intended the 340th 
to establish a blocking position at Ober- 
stadtfeld, but hours before dawn on the 
6th, the American combat command was 
on the move again. The tanks entered 
Oberstadtfeld long before the men of 
the 340th arrived, forcing, the Germans 
to abandon all vehicles and artillery and 
to try to escape by infiltrating northeast- 



202 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



ward across the tail of the American 
column. 38 

Unlike CCB, the 4th Armored's CCA 
found the going slow on the first day, 5 
March, primarily because CCA had been 
relegated to secondary roads farther east. 
Boggy from alternate freeze and thaw, 
the roads and a demolished bridge over 
a creek at the village of Oberkail held 
the day's advance to a few miles. Hardly 
had the tankers warmed their motors the 
next morning, 6 March, when continu- 
ing reports of rapid gains by CCB 
prompted General Gaffey to order CCA 
to follow in the other command's wake 
on the main highway, leaving the sec- 
ondary roads to the 5th Division. 

The infantry division now was ex- 
periencing real problems — not so much 
from the enemy as from the complexities 
of traffic on narrow, poorly surfaced, 
winding roads. Until all vehicles of the 
armored division could clear the bridge- 
head, the armor had priority; yet the 
infantrymen also were under orders to 
move swiftly lest the armor get too far 
beyond reach of infantry support. With 
great distances hampering radio com- 
munications and the roads too congested 
for motor messengers, orders to forward 
units of the 5th Division had to be 
dropped from liaison planes. 

The weather on 6 March again was so 
bad — rain and fog — that tactical aircraft 
for the second day could provide no 
help; but the armor scarcely needed it, 
for the Germans were in a state of con- 
fusion. Even though the tankers actually 
cleared the enemy from little more than 
the road and shoulders, preattack con- 
cern that the Germans might continue 

88 MS # B-797 (Bodenstein); XII Corps G-3 Jnl, 
5 Mar 45; 4th Armored Div Periodic Rpt, 6 Mar 
45- 



to defend from woods and adjacent high 
ground failed to materialize. Germans in 
great bunches, sometime numbering in 
the hundreds, streamed from hills, 
woods, and villages to surrender. 

At one point, so many surrendering 
Germans were clustered about a column 
of tanks of the 37th Tank Battalion that 
the LIII Corps commander, General von 
Rothkirch, driving past in his command 
car, assumed it was a German formation. 
Too late he saw what was actually hap- 
pening. 

"Where do you think you're going?" 
asked ist Lt. Joe Liese of the 37th Tank 
Battalion's Company B. 

"It looks like," Rothkirch replied, not 
without a touch of irony, "I'm going to 
the American rear." 39 

Monitoring the American radio net, 
German intelligence quickly picked up 
the news of Rothkirch 's capture and the 
extent of CCB's penetration. Apparently 
with approval of OB WEST, Model at 
Army Group B tacitly acknowledged the 
fact that the LIII Corps had been cut off 
from the rest of the Seventh Army by 
subordinating the corps to Zangen's Fif- 
teenth Army, whose LXVI and LXVII 
Corps still held portions of the West 
Wall opposite the U.S. V Corps. Model 
also ordered forward a new commander 
for the LIII Corps, Generalmajor Wal- 
ther Botsch, who earlier had been 
charged with preparing defenses for a 
bridgehead to be held at Bonn and 
Remagen. Even though troops of the 
American First Army were fast bearing 
down on both those towns, so urgent did 
Model consider the need for a new com- 
mander of the LIII Corps that he refused 

38 George Dyer, XII Corps — Spearhead of Patton's 
Third Army (XII Corps History Association, 1947) 
(hereafter cited as Dyer, XII Corps), p, 330. 



OPERATION LUMBERJACK 



203 



to allow General Botsch to wait long 
enough to brief his successor on the situa- 
tion at Bonn and Remagen. 40 

From that point, no commander on 
the German side could have entertained 
any genuine hope for continued defense 
west of the Rhine either by the LIII 
Corps or by the other two corps of the 
Fifteenth Army still in the Eifel, the 
LXVI (Lucht) and LXVH (Hitzfeld) . 
The three corps obviously were in im- 
minent danger of encirclement. It was 
without question now a matter of trying 
to save whoever and whatever to help 
defend the Rhine, but in view of the 
stranglehold the word of Hitler still ex- 
ercised at every level, nobody would 
authorize withdrawal. Botsch, the other 
corps commanders, Zangen at Fifteenth 
Army, and Model at Army Group B — 
all focused their General Staff-trained 
minds on issuing defense, assembly, and 
counterattack orders that looked as pretty 
as a war game on paper but made no 
sense in the grim reality of the situation 
in the Eifel. In the process, each pro- 
tested to his next higher commander the 
idiocy of it all. 

Model, for his part, ordered the nth 
Panzer Division — or what was left of it 
after withdrawal from the triangle be- 
tween the Erft and the Rhine north of 
Cologne — to recross the Rhine at Bonn 
and counterattack southwest toward 
Rheinbach to cut off spearheads of the 
First U.S. Army's III Corps. That was a 
patent impossibility. The remnants of 
the panzer division would be too late 
even to recross the Rhine, much less 
counterattack. 

Still convinced the main objective of 
the III Corps was not Bonn but Rema- 



gen, General von Zangen ordered Gen- 
eral Hitzfeld of the LXVH Corps to 
assume command of the 2j2d Volks 
Grenadier Division, already forced back 
onto this corps by the south wing of the 
attack of the U.S. Ill Corps. He was 
then to turn over his West Wall obliga- 
tions to the LXVI Corps, and with the 
2j2d and his own divisions (89th and 
2jjth) to counterattack on 7 March into 
the flank of the III Corps southeast of 
Rheinbach to cut the "funnel" leading 
to the Ahr River and Remagen. 41 

After making the usual protest that the 
project simply was not feasible, Hitzfeld 
went through the motions of readying 
the counterattack. Already the corps was 
in a somewhat better position to assemble 
than might have been expected, for as 
early as 3 March the 89th Infantry and 
2yyth Volks Grenadier Divisions had be- 
gun limited withdrawals from the West 
Wall positions in the vicinity of the 
Roer reservoirs. By 6 March the two di- 
visions were some five miles behind their 
original lines, almost out of contact 
with the Americans except on the right 
wing where the 2d Division of the U.S. 
V Corps had joined the general of- 
fensive. 42 

Even so, assembling for counterattack 
in the face of continuing advances by 
the III Corps in the north and the north- 
eastward thrusts of the VIII Corps still 
was impossible. About all Hitzfeld ac- 
complished in that direction was further 
to clog roads already choked with with- 
drawing columns and to expose the north 
flank of the LXVI Corps. Continued bad 
flying weather was the only thing that 
prevented Allied aircraft from turning 
the entire situation to utter chaos. 



"MS # B-8a8 (Zangen). 



"MSS # B-101 (Hitzfeld); B-828 (Zangen). 
"MS # B-8a8 (Zangen). 



204 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



The position of General Lucht's LX VI 
Corps, still holding some West Wall po- 
sitions astride the Weisserstein water- 
shed, was most perilous of all. Already 
the south wing of the corps had been 
forced back by the drive of the U.S. 
VIII Corps to the Kyll River northeast 
of Pruem. With the north flank exposed 
also by Hitzfeld's withdrawal, Lucht's 
divisions now were in serious trouble, a 
fact underscored early on 6 March when 
the V Corps commander, General Hueb- 
ner, began to broaden his thrust — here- 
tofore confined to the 2d Division on his 
north wing — -by sending the 6gth Di- 
vision (Maj. Gen. Emil F. Reinhardt) 
eastward in the center of his zone. It 
would be driven home with even greater 
emphasis the next day when the 28th 
and 106th Divisions also joined the 
attack. While a regiment of the 2d Di- 
vision plunged forward ten miles and 
took a bridge intact across the Ahr River, 
a column of the 28th Division (Maj. 
Gen. Norman D. Cota) overran Lucht's 
command post, bagging most of the corps 
headquarters, including the chief of staff. 
Lucht himself escaped because he was 
away at the time. 43 

When General Botsch arrived to join 
the LIII Corps with the unenviable as- 
signment of assuming command, he 
learned he had scarcely any combat 
troops left. Such as there were — tiny rem- 
nants of the 326th and 340th Folks 
Grenadier Divisions — the corps chief of 
staff had organized into battle groups 
and given the only realistic mission pos- 
sible, to harass American columns as best 
they could. 

During the day of 6 March, CCB of 
the 4th Armored Division gained another 



V Corps Operations in the ETO, p. 394. 



thirteen and a half miles, roughly half 
the distance between the jump-off on 
the Kyll and the Rhine near Andernach, 
then veered northeast off the main high- 
way in the direction of the road center 
of Mayen. That added another five miles 
to the day's total before the armor had 
to stop for the night because of crum- 
bling roads. Other than a growing prob- 
lem of handling hundreds of prisoners, 
the combat command had no real diffi- 
culty all day except for an undefended 
roadblock that took about an hour to 
remove and occasional fire from assault 
guns or isolated field pieces on the 
flanks. Although CCA attempted to di- 
verge from CCB's route to force a second 
passage a few miles to the south, de- 
molished bridges eventually forced that 
combat command to tie in again on the 
tail of CCB. 

The infantry divisions of the XII 
Corps in the meantime still found the 
going slow because of boggy roads, de- 
molished bridges, heavy traffic, and 
sometimes determined resistance. Hav- 
ing turned north immediately after cross- 
ing the Kyll, the armor had left the in- 
fantry to deal with the two divisions 
(246th Folk Grenadier and 2d Panzer) 
upon which the Seventh Army's General 
Felber had based his unenthusiastic 
hopes of stopping the armor. As night 
came on the 6th, neither the 5th Divi- 
sion nor the 76th, the latter having 
crossed the Kyll southeast of Bitburg, 
held bridgeheads more than a few miles 
deep. 

Matters would improve only slightly 
for the infantry divisions the next day, 
7 March. A predawn counterattack, for 
example, knocked a battalion of the 5th 
Division from a village on the north- 
eastern periphery of the bridgehead. 



OPERATION LUMBERJACK 



205 



Although real and disturbing to the 
men and commanders who had to over- 
come it, this resistance when viewed 
against the backdrop of developments 
elsewhere in the Eifel on 7 March was 
negligible and futile. It was on this day 
that defenses of the LXVI and LXVII 
Corps in front of the U.S. V Corps be- 
gan to fall apart. On 7 March also the 
11th Armored Division in Middleton's 
VIII Corps at last got across the Kyll 
River in strength at Gerolstein and ad- 
vanced eleven miles. As night fell, the 
armor took the important crossroads vil- 
lage of Kelberg, near a famous prewar 
automobile race course, the Nuerburg 
Ring. In the process, the tankers forced 
the newly arrived commander of the 
LIII Corps, General Botsch, and his 
headquarters troops to flee. 

Even more spectacular and — in the 
end — decisive was the advance on 7 
March of the 4th Armored Division's 
front-running CCB. Backtracking sev- 
eral miles to get on a better highway and 
avoid the crumbling roads that had 
stalled advance the evening before, CCB 
attacked in early morning through rain 
and fog. Brushing aside halfhearted re- 
sistance in the first village, the column 
paused on the fringe of the second, Kai- 
sersesch, while a German-speaking sol- 
dier, using an amplifier, demanded sur- 
render. A heterogeneous collection of 
German troops meekly complied. Racing 
on, the tankers drew their next fire five 
miles farther along at Kehrig. This time 
a demand for surrender drew more fire 
from Panzerfausts and antitank guns, but 
an artillery concentration on the town 
brought a quick end to the defiance. 

From that point, the advance was little 
more than a road march with the tank- 
ers signaling German soldiers rearward 



to be taken prisoner by those who fol- 
lowed. Here and there along the road 
clusters of impressed laborers of almost 
every European nationality waved and 
cheered. 

At one point, 1st Lt. Edgar C. Smith, 
piloting an artillery observation plane, 
spotted a column of retreating Germans 
not far ahead, obscured from the tankers 
by the rolling countryside. At Smith's 
urging, a company of Sherman tanks 
speeded up in pursuit. 

"They're only 1,500 yards from you 
now, go faster," radioed Lieutenant 
Smith. 

Later he reported they were only a 
thousand yards away, still screened by 
the terrain. 

After another pause, the radio crack- 
led again. 

"They're around the next curve," 
Smith said. "Go get 'em!" 

The tanks burst upon the rear of the 
startled Germans and raked the column 
with 75's and machine guns. 44 

As night fell, the head of CCB's col- 
umn coiled on the reverse slope of the 
last high ground before the Rhine, three 
miles from the river, across from Neu- 
wied. The drive to the Rhine was all but 
finished in just over two and a half days. 
The 4th Armored Division had driven 
forty-four airline miles — much longer 
by road — from the Kyll to a spot over- 
looking the Rhine. The division took 
5,000 prisoners, captured or destroyed 
volumes of equipment, including 34 
tanks and assault guns, and killed or 
wounded 700 Germans. The division 
itself lost 29 men killed, 80 wounded, 
2 missing. 



" Dyer, XII Corps, pp. 330 and 334. 



206 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



In the process, the armor had spread 
havoc through whatever cohesion still 
remained in the German defense west 
of the Rhine and north of the Moselle. 
Everywhere irregular columns of foot 
troops interspersed with a confusion of 
motor and horse-drawn vehicles toiled 
toward the Rhine, hoping to find a 
barge, a ferry, perhaps a bridge still 
standing. Other Germans gave them- 
selves up by the hundreds, particularly 
in front of the V and VIII Corps, while 
still others — some successfully, most not 
— tried to slip behind the armored spear- 
heads to escape southward across the 
Moselle. Abandoned equipment, ve- 
hicles, antitank guns, and field pieces, 
many of them smoldering, dotted the 
Eifel in macabre disarray. 

Yet for all the striking success of the 
drive, a chance to cap it with an even 
more spectacular achievement remained. 
Unknown to commanders and men of 
the 4th Armored Division, a few miles 
upstream from CCB's position, midway 
between Andernach and Koblenz, near 
the village of Urmitz, a bridge across the 
Rhine still stood, the Crown Prince Wil- 
helm Railroad Bridge. 

Although the 4th Armored Division 
was under orders to seize any bridge 
over the Rhine still standing, nobody 
entertained any real expectation that a 
bridge might be taken; and in line with 
General Eisenhower's plan for a main 
effort across the Rhine by Montgomery's 
21 Army Group, the thoughts of senior 
commanders in the Third Army were 
turning from the Rhine to the Moselle, 
which General Patton hoped to cross in 
order to trap the Germans in the West 
Wall in front of the U.S. Seventh Army. 
Aerial reconnaissance had already con- 
firmed in any case that no bridge still 



stood across the Rhine in the Third 
Army's zone. In keeping with that re- 
port and to avoid exposing tanks and 
other vehicles to antitank fire from the 
east bank of the Rhine and to the fire of 
stationary antiaircraft guns ringing near- 
by Koblenz, the men and vehicles of the 
4th Armored Division stopped short of 
the Rhine itself and remained under 
cover on the reverse slope of the last 
high ground short of the river. 

The coming of daylight on 8 March 
provoked something of a mystery. From 
the high ground observers could see Ger- 
mans retreating individually and in rag- 
ged columns toward what maps showed 
to be a railroad bridge near Urmitz. Be- 
cause of haze and generally poor visi- 
bility, they were unable to make out a 
bridge, but presumably the Germans 
were gravitating there in order somehow 
to get across the Rhine. As the day wore 
on, some prisoners and civilians said the 
Germans had already destroyed several 
spans of the railroad bridge while others 
reported that the bridge still stood. 

CCA had readied an attack to be 
launched before daylight on the 9th to 
drive to the bridge and seize it if it was 
still intact when word came that General 
Bradley had approved the Third Army's 
turn southward across the Moselle. The 
4th Armored Division was to change di- 
rection and try to seize a bridge over 
that river. 

Soon after daylight on the 9th, after 
CCA had abandoned its plan to drive for 
the bridge at Urmitz, the Germans de- 
molished it. Close investigation ex- 
plained the conflicting reports the 
Americans had received. The Germans 
had earlier destroyed two spans of the 
railroad bridge, but beneath the rails 
they had hung a tier for vehicular traf- 



OPERATION LUMBERJACK 



207 



fic. It was the makeshift bridge that they 
destroyed early on the gth. 

Whether CCA could have taken the 
bridge before the Germans blew it was 
problematical, for by that time the Ger- 
mans had become exceedingly wary of 
bridges falling into Allied hands. That 



was because of a happening a few miles 
to the north in the zone of the First 
Army's III Corps. There a 9th Armored 
Division only recently oriented to make 
its main effort to seize crossings of the 
Ahr River had found a Rhine bridge in- 
tact at Remagen. 



CHAPTER XI 

A Rhine Bridge at Remagen 



Fortuitous events have a way some- 
times of altering the most meticulous of 
plans. That was what happened as the 
Allied armies neared the Rhine. 

In seeking at the end of January to 
allay British concern about the future 
course of Allied strategy, the Supreme 
Commander had assured the British 
Chiefs of Staff that a Rhine crossing in 
the north would not have to be delayed 
until the entire region west of the river 
was free of Germans. 1 Field Marshal 
Montgomery's 21 Army Group, General 
Eisenhower reiterated in a letter to 
senior commanders on 20 February, was 
to launch a massive thrust across the 
Rhine north of the Ruhr even as the 6th 
and 12th Army Groups completed their 
operations to clear the west bank. Those 
two army groups were to make secondary 
thrusts across the Rhine later. 2 

While designating the area north of 
the Ruhr and the Frankfurt-Kassel cor- 
ridor as the two main avenues of advance 
deep into Germany, Eisenhower left 
open the choice of specific Rhine cross- 
ing sites to his army group commanders. 
With an eye toward the Frankfurt-Kassel 
corridor, the 12 th Army Group's plan- 
ning staff in turn noted, in what eventu- 



1 See above, ch. 1; Pogue, The Supreme Com- 
mand, pp. 413-14. 

2 Ltr, Eisenhower to AGp CG's, 20 Feb 45; SCAF 
180, 201500 Jan 45. Both in SHAEF SGS Post-OVER- 
lord Planning file, 381, III. 



ally was to be the First Army's zone, 
two acceptable crossing sites. Both were 
at points where the Rhine valley is 
relatively broad; one in the north, be- 
tween Cologne and Bonn, the other be- 
tween Andernach and Koblenz. From 
either site access would be fairly rapid 
to the Ruhr-Frankfurt autobahn' and 
thence to the Lahn River valley leading 
into the Frankfurt-Kassel corridor. 

Both had drawbacks, for both led into 
the wooded hills and sharply compart- 
mented terrain of a region known as the 
Westerwald; but both avoided the worst 
of that region. The most objectionable 
crossing sites of all were in the vicinity 
of Remagen; there the Westerwald is at 
its most rugged, the roadnet is severely 
limited, and the Rhine flows less through 
a valley than a gorge. 3 

As the First Army neared the Rhine, 
General Bradley, the army group com- 
mander, like Patton of the Third Army, 
was looking less toward an immediate 
Rhine crossing than toward the Third 
Army's drive south to clear the Saar- 
Palatinate. The role of Hodges' First 
Army in the coming operation was to 
defend the line of the Rhine and mop 
up pockets of resistance. Hodges also was 
to be prepared to extend his units to 
the southernmost of the two acceptable 



3 12th AGp Opns Plan, 23 Feb 45; Rhineland 
Opns Plan (draft), 27 Feb 45. 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



209 



crossing sites, that between Andernach 
and Koblenz. 4 

The Germans at Remagen 

With Allied troops approaching the 
Rhine, the order and efficiency normally 
associated with things German had 
become submerged in a maelstrom of 
confused and contradictory command 
channels. Nowhere was this more appar- 
ent than at the railroad bridge on the 
southern fringe of Remagen. There a 
small miscellany of troops was operating 
under a variety of commands. An army 
officer, Capt. Willi Bratge, was the so- 
called combat commander of the entire 
Remagen area, ostensibly with the power 
of over-all command but only in event 
of emergency. Capt. Karl Friesenhahn, 
an engineer officer, was the technical or 
bridge commander. An antiaircraft of- 
ficer, responsible to neither, commanded 
antiaircraft troops in the vicinity. Men 
of the Volkssturm were under Nazi party 
officials. Furthermore — though no one at 
Remagen yet knew it — another officer, a 
major, was destined soon to come to the 
town to supersede Bratge's command. 5 

This confusion and contradiction was 
repeated at almost every level of com- 
mand all along the Rhine front. Much 

4 18th AGp Outline Opn Undertone, 7 Mar 45. 

B The German story is primarily from a study 
by Ken Hechler, Seizure of the Remagen Bridge, 
based on postwar German manuscripts and con- 
temporary German records and prepared in OCMH 
to complement this volume. A U.S. Army historian 
in Europe during World War 11, Mr. Hechler sub- 
sequently wrote a comprehensive and authoritative 
account of the Remagen action, The Bridge at 
Remagen (New York: Ballantine Books, 1957) . The 
published work includes considerable material 
developed by Mr. Hechler through postwar inter- 
views in the United States and Germany, and has 
also been used extensively in the preparation of 
the first half of this chapter. 



of it was attributable to the fact that 
prior to March, responsibility for pro- 
tecting the Rhine bridges had rested 
entirely with the Wehrkreise (military 
districts) . Troops of the Wehrkreise 
were responsible not to any army com- 
mand but to the military arm of the 
Nazi party, the Waffen-SS, and jealous 
rivalry between the two services was 
more the rule than the exception. As the 
fighting front in early March fell back 
from Roer to Rhine, responsibility was 
supposed to pass from Wehrkreis to army 
group and army, but in practice Wehr- 
kreis commanders jealously held on to 
their command prerogatives. Further- 
more, antiaircraft troops answered nei- 
ther to army headquarters nor Waffen- 
SS but instead to the Luftwaffe; and 
within the Army itself the Field Army 
(Feldheer) vied for authority with the 
Replacement Army (Ersatzheer) . 

To complicate matters further, a num- 
ber of recent command changes had had 
an inevitable effect. On 1 February, 
Wehrkreis VI had relinquished author- 
ity for Remagen to Wehrkreis XII. 
Then, on 1 March, came the shift that 
took place at the height of Operation 
Grenade, exchange of zones between the 
Fifth Panzer and Fifteenth Armies. A 
few days later, as German troops fell 
back from the Roer, General Puechler's 
LXXIV Corps, gravitating on Bonn, 
might have been expected to command 
any bridgehead retained in the vicinity 
of Bonn and Remagen; but instead, 
Field Marshal Model at Army Group B 
set up a separate command, the one un- 
der General Botsch, commander of a 
badly depleted volks grenadier division. 
Botsch was to be responsible directly to 
Zangen's Fifteenth Army. 

As General Botsch tried to appraise the 



210 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



situation, he ran head on into the differ- 
ing views of his two superiors, Zangen 
and Model, as to the course the Ameri- 
cans presumably would follow — Model 
with his belief that the main thrust 
would be made on Bonn, Zangen with 
the idea that the Americans would ex- 
ploit the "spout of the funnel" leading 
to Remagen. To be prepared for either 
eventuality, Botsch wanted to place his 
headquarters midway between the two 
towns, but Model insisted that he locate 
at or near Bonn. There Botsch ran afoul 
of Bonn's local defense commander, 
Generalmajor Richard von Bothmer, 
who raised questions as to just who was 
in command at Bonn. Trying to resolve 
the conflicts, Botsch spent much of the 
first few days of March driving back and 
forth between command posts of the 
Fifteenth Army and Army Group B and 
between Bonn and Remagen. 

Although tiring and frustrating, these 
peregrinations probably established Gen- 
eral Botsch as the one man who under- 
stood how the diverse command complex 
worked. Driving up the Ahr River val- 
ley toward the Fifteenth Army's head- 
quarters early on 6 March, Botsch also 
got a firsthand view of pandemonium in 
the making as individuals and depleted 
units retreated pell-mell toward the 
Rhine. This personal knowledge of how 
serious matters really were well might 
have stood the Germans in good stead at 
Remagen, but General Botsch had no 
chance to use it. 

For it was General Botsch to whom 
Field Marshal Model turned in the after- 
noon of 6 March to replace the captured 
General von Rothkirch in command of 
the LIII Corps. 6 At 1700 Botsch left on 



"See above, ch. X. 



the futile assignment of trying to resur- 
rect the LIII Corps without even being 
accorded time to brief his successor, his 
erstwhile disputant at Bonn, General von 
Bothmer. Thus was lost to the Bonn- 
Remagen defense the one commander 
who, because of his knowledge of the 
complicated command setup and the true 
nature of German reverses west of the 
Rhine, might have forestalled what was 
about to happen at Remagen. 

"When the Fifteenth Army commander, 
General von Zangen, learned of Botsch's 
shift, he told General Hitzfeld, com- 
mander of the LXVII Corps, to send 
someone to Remagen to check personally 
on the situation there. A short while 
later, at 0100 on 7 March, at the same 
time Zangen ordered the LXVII Corps 
to counterattack the spout of the funnel 
leading to Remagen, he also told Hitz- 
feld the Remagen bridgehead was then 
the responsibility of the LXVII Corps. 

With the bulk of his troops still thirty- 
five miles from the Rhine, sorely beset 
on all sides and under orders to launch 
a counterattack that on the face of it was 
impossible, and with American troops no 
more than ten miles from Remagen, 
Hitzfeld could do little. Summoning his 
adjutant, Major Hans Scheller, he told 
him to take eight men and a radio and 
proceed to Remagen, there to assume 
command, assemble as much strength as 
possible, and establish a small bridge- 
head. He specifically warned Scheller to 
check immediately upon arrival as to the 
technical features of the Remagen rail- 
road bridge and to make sure the bridge 
was prepared for demolition. 

At approximately 0200 (7 March) , 
Major Scheller and his eight men started 
for Remagen in two vehicles over wind- 
ing, troop-choked, blacked-out Eifel 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



211 



roads. In the darkness, Scheller's vehicle 
quickly became separated from the other, 
the one that carried the radio. Running 
low on fuel, Scheller ordered his driver 
to take a long detour to the south to seek 
out a supply installation where he might 
get gasoline. Shortly after 1100 on 7 
March Major Scheller, still without a 
radio, finally reached the Remagen 
bridge. Sounds of battle already were 
discernible in the distance. 

The Hope for a Bridge 

As the crucible neared for the Ger- 
mans at Bonn and Remagen, probably 
none of the American troops or their 
commanders, who on 6 March began to 
make great strides toward the Rhine, 
entertained any genuine expectation of 
se izing a bridge across the river intact. 

ee Map ZX.)| Some units were under 
formal orders to seize and hold any 
bridge that still stood, but more as a 
routine precaution than anything else. 
Nobody had made any positive plans 
about what to do should such a windfall 
occur. 

Back in February, as the First Army 
drive began, some staff officers had toyed 
with the idea that a Rhine bridge might 
be taken. So remote appeared the chances 
nevertheless that they went ahead with 
a request to Allied air forces to continue 
to bomb the bridges. Inclement weather 
rather than plan had provided the 
bridges respite from air attack during 
the early days of March. 

In the Ninth Army, of course, a flurry 
of hope for a Rhine bridge had devel- 
oped on the first day of March, inviting 
the attention of the Supreme Com- 
mander himself. 7 Yet that hope had 

7 Ibid. 



proved short-lived; and despite the fact 
that two attempts came heartbreakingly 
close to success, the failures appeared to 
confirm the general opinion that the 
methodical Germans would see to it that 
nobody got across the Rhine the easy 
way. 

The possibility still continued to in- 
trigue commanders at every level. When 
General Hodges visited headquarters of 
the III Corps on 4 March, for example, 
he and the corps commander, General 
Millikin, spoke of the possibility of 
taking the bridge at Remagen; but with 
troops of the III Corps still a long way 
from the Rhine, the discussion was brief. 
The next day, with the 1st Division ad- 
vancing on Bonn, the division com- 
mander asked General Millikin what to 
do in case the highway bridge at Bonn 
could be seized. On 6 March Millikin 
put the question to the First Army G—3, 
Brig. Gen. Truman C. Thorson. The 
bridges, Thorson ruled, should be cap- 
tured wherever possible. 

The G-3 of the III Corps, Colonel 
Mewshaw, and an assistant had mused 
over the likelihood of taking the Rem- 
agen bridge with paratroops or a picked 
band of Rangers; but so slight appeared 
the chance that the discussion never 
went beyond the operations section. In 
the directive issued to the 9th Armored 
Division on 6 March, the order in regard 
to the bridge at Remagen was to "cut by 
fire"; the order also restricted artillery 
fire against the bridge to time and 
proximity fuze. Early in the evening of 
6 March the III Corps also asked the air 
officer at First Army to refrain from 
bombing both the Bonn and Remagen 
bridges. 

That same evening, 6 March, General 
Millikin talked by telephone with the 



212 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



gth Armored Division commander, Gen- 
eral Leonard. Among other things, Gen- 
eral Leonard recalled later, Millikin had 
something like this to say about the rail- 
road bridge at Remagen: "Do you see 
that little black strip of bridge at Rem- 
agen? If you happen to get that, your 
name will go down in glory." 8 

Yet despite all deliberation about the 
bridge on 6 March, this was the same day 
that Colonel Mewshaw confirmed for the 
gth Armored Division G-3 that the di- 
vision's main effort should be aimed not 
at the Rhine but at crossings of the Ahr. 
Furthermore, neither the 9th Armored 
Division nor that division's Combat 
Command B, the unit headed toward 
Remagen, mentioned in its field order 
taking the bridge at Remagen, although 
General Leonard did note the possibility 
orally as a matter of course to the CCB 
commander. 

For all the talk about getting a bridge 
over the Rhine, the prospect remained 
little more than a fancy. 

Advance to the Rhine 

On 6 March, as General Millikin 
shifted the objectives of his divisions 
southeastward to conform with the First 
Army's emphasis on crossings of the Ahr 
River, the advance of the III Corps 
picked up momentum. Despite time lost 
to a determined German delaying force 
at the road center of Rheinbach, the gth 
Armored Division's Combat Command 
A gained more than ten miles and 
stopped at midnight less than two miles 
from the Ahr. CCB reached Stadt Meck- 
enheim, only eight miles from the Rhine. 

9 Combat interview with General Leonard; see 
also interview with General Millikin and his com- 
ments on the draft MS of this volume. 



A regiment of the 1st Division on the 
corps north wing got within four miles 
of the Rhine northwest of Bonn. 

The next morning, 7 March, as troops 
of the neighboring VII Corps eliminated 
the last resistance around Cologne, Gen- 
eral Hodges transferred responsibility 
for clearing Bonn to General Collins's 
corps, but with the responsibility went 
the means, the 1st Division. At the same 
time, infantry of the gth Division con- 
tinued to close in on Bad Godesberg, and 
the gth Armored's CCA jumped the Ahr 
at Bad Neuenahr, even though the Ger- 
mans fought doggedly to hold open the 
Ahr valley highway, the main route of 
withdrawal for General Hitzfeld'sLXF/7 
Corps. Combat Command B meanwhile 
sent one column southeastward to cross 
the Ahr near its confluence with the 
Rhine and another column toward Rem- 
agen. 

Built around the 27th Armored In- 
fantry Battalion and the 14th Tank Bat- 
talion (minus one company) , the task 
force heading for Remagen was under 
the tank battalion commander, Lt. Col. 
Leonard Engeman. To lead the column, 
Colonel Engeman designated an infantry 
platoon and a tank platoon, the latter 
equipped with the new, experimental 
T26 Pershing tank mounting a 90-mm. 
gun. 

Because bulldozers had to clear rubble 
from the roads leading out of Stadt Meck- 
enheim before the armored vehicles 
could pass, Task Force Engeman got a 
fairly late start on 7 March. The column 
began to move only at 0820, but the Ger- 
mans apparently gained nothing from 
the delay. The first opposition — desul- 
tory artillery and small arms fire — de- 
veloped more than three miles from the 
starting point. Another mile and a half 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



213 



to the east the column turned south, and 
just before noon entered a big patch of 
woods west of Remagen. Here and there 
little clusters of Germans passed, hands 
behind their heads, anxious to give them- 
selves up to the first Americans who 
would take the time to deal with them. 

A few minutes before 1300, the leading 
infantry platoon commander, 2d Lt. 
Emmet J. Burrows, emerged from the 
woods on a high bluff overlooking Rem- 
agen. Below him, the view of the Rhine 
gorge, even in the haze of 7 March, was 
spectacular. 

The railroad bridge just outside 
Remagen, Lieutenant Burrows took in 
at a glance, still stood. 

The Crisis at the Bridge 

Down at the bridge, confusion reigned, 
much as it had all morning. Since soon 
after daylight, frightened and disorgan- 
ized groups of German troops had been 
fleeing across the bridge, bringing with 
them tales of the strength of American 
forces pouring down the Ahr valley. The 
wounded and the stragglers — tired, 
dispirited men with heads bowed — 
added stark punctuation to the accounts. 
Lumbering supply vehicles, horse-drawn 
artillery, quartermaster and other rear 
echelon service units created mammoth 
traffic jams. The jams would have been 
worse had not a 4-day rush job to lay 
planks across the railroad tracks at last 
been finished the night before. 

Built in 1916, the railroad bridge at 
Remagen was named for the World War 
I hero, Erich Ludendorff. Wide enough 
for two train tracks, plus footpaths on 
either side, the bridge had three sym- 
metrical arches resting on four stone 
piers. The over-all length was 1,069 f eet - 



At each end stood two stone towers, black 
with grime, giving the bridge a fortress- 
like appearance. Only a few yards from 
the east end of the bridge, the railroad 
tracks entered a tunnel through the 
black rock of a clifflike hill, the Erpeler 
Ley. 

A year before the start of World War 
II, the Germans had devised an elaborate 
demolition scheme for the bridge that 
included installing an electric fuze con- 
nected with explosives by a cable encased 
in thick steel pipe. Even if the electric 
fuze failed to work, a primer cord might 
be lit by hand to set off emergency 
charges. Later, at the end of 1944, engi- 
neers had made plans to blow a big ditch" 
across the Remagen end of the bridge to 
forestall enemy tanks until the main 
demolitions could be set off. 

Long at his post, the engineer com- 
mander at Remagen, Captain Friesen- 
hahn, knew the demolition plan well, 
but only a few days before 7 March an 
order had arrived that complicated the 
task. Because a bridge at Cologne had 
been destroyed prematurely when an 
American bomb set off the explosive 
charges, OKW had ordered that demoli- 
tions be put in place only when the 
fighting front had come within eight 
kilometers of a bridge; and igniters were 
not to be attached until "demolition 
seems to be unavoidable." 9 In addition, 
both the order to prepare the explosives 
and the demolition order itself were to 
be issued in writing by the officer bear- 
ing tactical responsibility for the area. 

Until just before noon, 7 March, the 
officer bearing tactical responsibility at 
Remagen was Captain Bratge. In a grow- 
ing lather of excitement at the hegira of 

9 A translation of this order appears as Annex 1 
to 99th Div G-a Periodic Rpt, 7 Mar 45. 



214 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



German units and stragglers, Bratge early 
in the morning telephoned headquarters 
of Army Group B to ask for instructions, 
but he was able to get through only to a 
duty officer. The officer assured him that 
Army Group B was not particularly 
worried about the situation at Remagen; 
Bonn appeared to be the most threatened 
point. 

For actual defense of Remagen and 
the bridge, Captain Bratge had only 
thirty-six men in his own company, plus 
Friesenhahn's handful of engineers and 
a smattering of unreliable Volkssturm, 
the latter technically not even under 
Bratge's command. The antiaircraft 
troops that earlier had been set up on 
the west bank had left in midmorning, 
joining the retreating hordes crossing 
the bridge. 

General Botsch, Bratge knew, had 
asked Field Marshal Model at Army 
Group B for an entire division to defend 
at Bonn and a reinforced regiment at 
Remagen. That kind of strength, Model 
had replied, simply was not available. 
Although Model had promised some re- 
inforcement, none had arrived. During 
the evening of 6 March, Bratge had tried 
to reach General Botsch 's headquarters 
to ask for help, but had been unable to 
get through. He had no way of knowing 
that Botsch's headquarters had pulled 
out to go to Botsch's new command, the 
LIII Corps. An officer sent from General 
von Bothmer's headquarters at Bonn to 
give Bratge this information had wan- 
dered into American positions and been 
captured. 

At one point Captain Bratge managed 
to corral the remnants of a battalion from 
the 3d Parachute Division and persuaded 
the officers to set up a defense to the 
southwest to block an expected American 



advance from the Ahr valley, but a short 
while later these troops melted into the 
fleeing columns and disappeared. When 
an antiaircraft unit stationed atop the 
Erpeler Ley withdrew, ostensibly under 
orders to go to Koblenz, even that 
strategic observation point was left un- 
manned. 

At 1115, Bratge looked up from the 
unit orders he was checking at the bridge 
to see a red-eyed major approaching. His 
name, the major said, was Hans Scheller. 
General Hitzfeld of the LXVII Corps, 
he continued, had sent him to take com- 
mand at Remagen. 

Once Captain Bratge had assured him- 
self that the major was, in fact, from the 
LXVII Corps and that his orders were 
legitimate, he was pleased to relinquish 
command. Together the two officers went 
to check with the engineers on progress 
of the demolitions. Although reports be- 
gan to arrive that Americans had reached 
the bluffs overlooking Remagen, Scheller 
was reluctant to order the bridge de- 
stroyed. An artillery captain, arriving at 
the bridge, had insisted that his battalion 
and its guns were following to cross the 
bridge, and Major Scheller felt keenly 
that combat units should not be penal- 
ized by having the bridge blown in their 
faces, particularly when they were bring- 
ing with them precious items such as 
artillery pieces. 

On the hill above Remagen, Lieuten- 
ant Burrows's excitement at discovering 
the bridge intact had brought his com- 
pany commander, 1st Lt. Karl H. Tim- 
merman, hurrying to the vantage point 
at the edge of the woods. Timmerman in 
turn called for the task force com- 
mander, Colonel Engeman. 

The task force commander's first reac- 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



215 




Lieutenant Timmerman, first officer 
to cross the Remagen Bridge. 



tion was much like that of Burrows and 
Timmerman, awe and surprise tempered 
by a sharp desire to get artillery time fire 
on the bridge immediately to hamper 
the German retreat. Supporting artillery 
nevertheless declined to fire, citing re- 
ports, actually erroneous, that friendly 
troops already were too close to the 
bridge. 

As Colonel Engeman directed Lieu- 
tenant Timmerman to start his infantry 
company moving cross-country into Rem- 
agen with the platoon of Pershing tanks 
to follow down the winding little road 
from the bluff, CCB's operations officer, 
Maj. Ben Cothran, arrived on the scene. 
Like the others before him, he got a 
tingling shock of excitement as he 
emerged from the woods and saw the 



Rhine below him, the Remagen bridge 
still standing. 

"My God!" Cothran exclaimed. "I've 
got to get the Old Man." 10 

He was referring to Brig. Gen. Wil- 
liam M. Hoge, the CCB commander. In 
keeping with the theory that the other 
column of the combat command heading 
for the Ahr was making the main effort, 
Hoge had followed closely behind that 
thrust. In response to Cothran's radio 
report, he tore cross-country to the 
scene. 

He might lose a battalion, General 
Hoge mused, if his men crossed the 
bridge before the Germans blew it. If 
they destroyed it while his men were in 
the act of crossing, he probably would 
lose a platoon. On the other hand .... 

Turning to Colonel Engeman, Hoge 
said, "I want you to get to that bridge 
as soon as possible." 

A short while later, at 1515, a message 
arrived from CCB's other column, which 
earlier had found a bridge across the Ahr 
River at Sinzig and had fought its way 
across. In Sinzig the men had discovered 
a civilian who insisted that the Germans 
at Remagen intended to blow the Luden- 
dorff railroad bridge precisely at 1600. 
Although the Germans in fact had no 
specific time schedule, the civilian's re- 
port nevertheless spurred General Hoge 
to urge Task Force Engeman to greater 
speed in seizing the bridge at Remagen. 

Having fought through the town of 
Remagen against an occasional die-hard 
German defender, Lieutenant Timmer- 
man, his infantrymen, and the support- 
ing platoon of tanks neared the bridge 
around 1600. As they approached, 
dodging occasional small arms and 20- 

10 Direct quotations in this section are from 
Hechler, The Bridge at Remagen. 



216 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



mm. fire from the towers, a volcano of 
rocks, dirt, and noise erupted. Captain 
Friesenhahn on his own initiative, when 
he saw the Americans appear, had ex- 
ploded the charge designed to prevent 
tanks from reaching the bridge. Timmer- 
man and his men could see the Germans 
on the other side of the river scurrying 
to and fro, apparently getting ready to 
blow the bridge itself. 

Major Scheller and Captain Bratge 
had already crossed the bridge to the 
railroad tunnel. Friesenhahn hurried to 
join them to get the order to destroy the 
bridge, but concussion from a tank shell 
knocked him to the floor of the bridge, 
unconscious. Fifteen precious minutes 
passed before he came to his senses. Still 
dazed, he resumed his trek toward the 
tunnel. 

In the railroad tunnel, pandemonium. 
Terrified civilians cowering against the 
walls, children wailing. Reluctant Volks- 
sturm awaiting only a chance to sur- 
render. Clusters of apprehensive soldiers, 
some foreign workers, even some ani- 
mals. White phosphorus shells from the 
American tanks across the river creating 
a heavy, eye-stinging smoke screen. Some 
soldiers caught outside the tunnel 
screaming as the phosphorus burned into 
their flesh. 

As Captain Bratge rushed outside to 
survey the situation, he came upon Cap- 
tain Friesenhahn and yelled at him to get 
the order from Major Scheller to blow 
the bridge. When Scheller gave his ap- 
proval, Bratge insisted on waiting while 
a lieutenant wrote down the exact timing 
and wording of the order. Going ouside 
again, he shouted to Friesenhahn to blow 
the bridge. True to his instructions from 
OKW, Friesenhahn insisted at first on 



having the order in writing, then re- 
lented in the interest of time. 

Warning the civilians and soldiers to 
take cover, Captain Friesenhahn turned 
the key designed to activate the electric 
circuit and set off the explosives. Nothing 
happened. He turned it again. Still noth- 
ing happened. He turned it a third time. 
Again, no response. 

Realizing that the circuit probably 
was broken, Friesenhahn sought a repair 
team to move onto the bridge; but as 
machine gun and tank fire riddled the 
ground, he saw that not enough time 
remained to do the job that way. He 
called for a volunteer to go onto the 
bridge and ignite the primer cord by 
hand. When a sergeant responded, Fries- 
enhahn himself went with him as far as 
the edge of the bridge and there waited 
anxiously while the sergeant, crouching 
to avoid shells and bullets, dashed onto 
the bridge. 

After what seemed an eternity, the 
sergeant started back toward the east 
bank at a run. Seemingly endless mo- 
ments passed. Had the sergeant failed? 
Would the primer cord ignite the charge? 

At last, a sudden booming roar. Tim- 
bers flew wildly into the air. The bridge 
lifted as if to rise from its foundations. 

Cowering against the explosion, Fries- 
enhahn breathed a sigh of relief. The job 
was done. 

Yet when he looked up again, the 
bridge was still there. 

Lieutenant Timmerman had barely 
finished the order to his men of Com- 
pany A, 27th Armored Infantry Bat- 
talion, to storm across the railroad bridge 
when the explosion came. Some men 
flung themselves to the ground for pro- 
tection. Others watched in awe as the 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



217 




Sergeant Drabik, first American across the 
Rhine. 

big span lifted and a giant cloud of dust 
and thick black smoke rose. Moments 
later, like Friesenhahn and the Germans 
on the east bank, they saw in incredible 
surprise that the bridge still stood. 

As the smoke and dust cleared, Tim- 
merman could discern that even though 
the explosion had torn big holes in the 
planking over the railroad tracks, the 
footpaths on either side were intact. Sig- 
naling his platoon leaders, he again or- 
dered attack. 

Bobbing and weaving, dashing from 
the cover of one metal girder to another, 
the men made their way onto the bridge. 
Machine gun fire from the towers near 
the east bank spattered among them, but 
return fire from the riflemen themselves 
and from the big tanks on the Remagen 
side kept the German fire down. With a 



few well-placed rounds, the Pershings 
silenced German riflemen firing from a 
half-submerged barge in the river. 

Close behind the first riflemen went 
two sergeants and a lieutenant from the 
engineer detachment operating with 
Task Force Engeman. Working swiftly, 
the engineers cut every wire they could 
find that might possibly lead to addi- 
tional demolitions. They shot apart 
heavy cables with their carbines. 

Nearing the far end, several men di- 
gressed to clean out the machine gunners 
from the towers, while others continued 
to the east bank. The first man to set 
foot beyond the Rhine was an as sistant 



squad leader, Sgt. Alex Drabik. (Map 
rj)| Others were only moments behind, 
including the first officer to cross, the 
Company A commander, Lieutenant 
Timmerman. 

As Timmerman's men spread out on 
the east bank and one platoon began the 
onerous task of climbing the precipitous 
Erpeler Ley, Major Scheller in the rail- 
road tunnel tried time after time to con- 
tact his higher headquarters to report 
that the bridge still stood. Failing that, 
he mounted a bicycle and rode off to re- 
port in person. As American troops ap- 
peared at both ends of the tunnel, Cap- 
tain Bratge and the other Germans in- 
side, including the engineer officer, Cap- 
tain Friesenhahn, surrendered. 

Reaction to the Coup 

Hardly had the first of Timmerman's 
men crossed the Rhine when Colonel 
Engeman radioed the news to the CCB 
commander, General Hoge. Because 
Hoge in the meantime had received 
word to divert as much strength as pos- 
sible from Remagen to reinforce the 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



219 



bridgehead over the Ahr River at Sinzig, 
he would be acting contrary to an order 
still in effect if, instead, he reinforced 
the Rhine crossing. He hesitated only 
momentarily. Send the rest of the ar- 
mored infantry battalion across imme- 
diately, he told Engeman; then he drove 
to his own command post for a meeting 
with his division commander, General 
Leonard. 

General Leonard's first reaction to 
the news was mock concern against 
Hoge's upset of the plans. "But let's 
push it," he added, "and then put it up 
to Corps." 11 

At 1630 the gth Armored Division 
chief of staff telephoned the command 
post of the III Corps. 

"Hot damn!" cried a little sergeant as 
he transferred the call to the chief of 
staff and threw down the telephone. 
"We got a bridge over the Rhine and 
we're crossing over!" 12 

Although the corps commander, Gen- 
eral Millikin, was away from the com- 
mand post, his chief of staff, Col. James 
H. Phillips, believed he knew how his 
commander would react. Even before 
trying to contact Millikin, he told the 
gth Armored Division to exploit the 
crossing. 

When Phillips relayed the news to 
headquarters of the First Army, General 
Hodges ordered engineers and boats to 
Remagen even before calling General 
Bradley at 12th Army Group for ap- 
proval. 

"Hot dog, Courtney" — -General Brad- 
ley later recalled his own reaction — 



11 Hechler, The Bridge at Remagen, p. 155. 
™ Ibid., p. viii. 



"This will bust him wide open . . . . 
Shove everything you can across it." 13 

General Eisenhower's reaction was 
much the same. Only the planners ap- 
peared to question in any degree the 
advisability of exploiting the coup. The 
SHAEF G-3, General Bull, who hap- 
pened to be at Bradley's headquarters 
when the news arrived, remarked that a 
crossing at Remagen led no place and 
that a diversion of strength to Remagen 
would interfere with General Eisenhow- 
er's plan to make the main effort north 
of the Ruhr. 14 Yet Bradley would have 
none of it, and Eisenhower confirmed 
that view. 

"Well, Brad," Eisenhower said, "we 
expected to have . . . [four] divisions 
tied up around Cologne and now those 
are free. Go ahead and shove over at 
least five divisions instantly, and any- 
thing else that is necessary to make cer- 
tain of our hold." 15 

Confirmed approval to exploit the 
crossing reached the III Corps at 1845 
on 7 March, and an hour and a half later 
General Hodges relieved the corps of 
the assignment of driving south across 
the Ahr. General Millikin in the mean- 
time had been making plans to motorize 
the reserve regiments of his two infantry 
divisions and rush them to the bridge. 
Engineers, artillery, antiaircraft — units 
of all types stirred in the early darkness 
and headed for Remagen. All roads lead- 



13 Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 510. 

11 Ibid. For General Bull's view of this event, see 
John Toland, The Last 100 Days (New York: 
Random House, 1966), pp. 214-15. 

1E Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe 
(New York: Doubleday and Company, 1948), p. 
380; Capt. Harry C. Butcher, USNR, My Three 
Years with Eisenhower (New York: Simon and 
Schuster, 1946), p. 768. Bradley, A Soldier's Story, 
page 514, says four divisions. 



220 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



ing toward the little Rhine town soon 
were thick with traffic. Before midnight 
three heavy caliber artillery battalions 
already were in position to fire in sup- 
port of the little band of infantrymen 
east of the Rhine. 

At the bridge, the handful of engi- 
neers from Task Force Engeman worked 
unceasingly to repair the damage the 
demolition had done to the flooring of 
the bridge. Although considerable work 
remained, the engineers shortly before 
midnight signaled that tanks might try 
to cross. 

Nine Sherman tanks of the 14th Tank 
Battalion crossed without incident, but 
the first tank destroyer to try it foun- 
dered in an unrepaired hole in the 
planking. The vehicle appeared to teeter 
precariously over the swirling waters far 
below, but for almost five hours every 
effort either to right the destroyer or to 
dump it into the river failed. At 0530 
(8 March) the vehicle was at last re- 
moved. 

In the 27th Armored Infantry Batta- 
lion's minuscule bridgehead, the infan- 
trymen and their limited tank support 
spent a troubled night fighting off 
platoon-size counterattacks along their 
undermanned perimeter and expecting 
the Germans at any moment to strike in 
force. At dawn, when the disabled tank 
destroyer was removed from the bridge, 
the arrival of a battalion of the 78th 
Division's 310th Infantry relieved the 
pressure. As the first vestiges of daylight 
appeared, a battalion of the 9th Divi- 
sion's 47th Infantry also crossed into the 
bridgehead. 

In the twenty-four hours following 
seizure of the bridge, almost 8,000 men 
crossed the Rhine, including two ar- 
mored infantry battalions, a tank battal- 



ion, a tank destroyer company, and a 
platoon of armored engineers of the 9th 
Armored Division; a regiment and two 
additional battalions of the 78th Divi- 
sion; a regiment and one additional bat- 
talion of the 9th Division; and one and 
a half batteries of antiaircraft artillery. 

During that twenty-four hours and 
into the next day, 9 March, General 
Eisenhower's initial jubilation over cap- 
ture of the Ludendorff Bridge cooled 
under the impact of admonitions from 
his staff. Committed to a main effort 
north of the Ruhr with the 21 Army 
Group, he actually had few reserves to 
spare for Remagen. Late on 9 March his 
G-3, General Bull, informed General 
Bradley that while the Supreme Com- 
mander wanted the brideghead held 
firmly and developed for an early ad- 
vance southeastward, he did not want it 
enlarged to a size greater than five divi- 
sions could defend. Bradley in turn told 
General Hodges to limit advances to a 
thousand yards a day, just enough to 
keep the enemy off balance and prevent 
him from mining extensively around the 
periphery. Once the troops reached the 
autobahn, seven miles beyond the 
Rhine, they were to hold in place until 
General Eisenhower ordered expansion. 
Thus, almost from the start, the forces 
in the Remagen bridgehead were to op- 
erate under wraps that would not be re- 
moved for more than a fortnight. 

On the German Side 

Like the Americans, the Germans had 
no plan ready to cope with the situation 
at Remagen. Indeed, the fact that the 
U.S. Ninth Army had made no immediate 
move to jump the Rhine had lulled 
many German commanders into the be- 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



221 



lief that the Allies would pause to mop 
up and regroup before trying to cross; 
and that had engendered a measure of 
apathy in regard to the possibility of 
losing a bridge. 

Nor did the Germans have any reserves 
close at hand to throw quickly against the 
little Remagen bridgehead. Most com- 
bat units near Remagen were still on the 
west bank, struggling to escape Ameri- 
can pincers and get back somehow across 
the Rhine. Most of the service troops in 
the Remagen area were busy ferrying the 
depleted combat forces. 

As the news about the Ludendorff 
Bridge spread slowly through a disor- 
ganized German command, officers near 
Remagen assembled about a hundred 
engineers and antiaircraft troops and 
fought through the night of the 7th, but 
to little avail. One group of Germans did 
reach the bridge itself with explosives in 
hand, but men of the 78th Division cap- 
tured them before they could do any 
damage. 

Because of the fluid tactical situation, 
many higher German commanders were 
on the move during the night of 7 March 
and failed for hours to learn about loss 
of the bridge. Field Marshal von Rund- 
stedt's headquarters got the word earlier 
than most through a chance conversation 
between the operations officer and local 
commanders. Nobody could find the 
Army Group B commander, Field Mar- 
shal Model, in whose sector the debacle 
had occurred. Model himself was at "the 
front," his headquarters on the move. 

When OB WEST finally did establish 
contact with Army Group B, Model still 
was away. So preoccupied was the army 
group staff with trying to save divisions 
of the LXVI and LXVII Corps, threat- 
ened with entrapment by the 4th Ar- 



mored Division's sweep to the Rhine 
above Andernach, that the headquarters 
at first reacted apathetically. When 
Model returned during the morning of 
8 March, he ordered the nth Panzer 
Division, which by that time was prepar- 
ing to recross the Rhine at Bonn to make 
the projected counterattack southwest 
toward Rheinbach, to sweep the Ameri- 
cans into the river and blow the Luden- 
dorff Bridge. 

The nth Panzer Division had about 
4,000 men, 25 tanks, and 18 artillery 
pieces, a force that well might have 
struck a telling blow had it been avail- 
able soon after the first Americans 
crossed the Rhine. Yet the panzer' di- 
vision, assembled near Duesseldorf, had 
somehow to obtain gasoline for its ve- 
hicles and thread a way along roads al- 
ready jammed with traffic and under 
attack from Allied planes. Not until two 
days later, 10 March, were even the first 
contingents of the division to get into 
action against the bridgehead. 16 Field 
Marshal Model meanwhile designated a 
single commander to co-ordinate all 
counteraction at Remagen, General Bay- 
erlein, erstwhile commander of Corps 
Bayerlein, who had fallen back before 
the drive of the VII Corps on Cologne. 
Bayerlein on 9 March took command of 
a heterogeneous collection of service 
troops opposite Remagen with the prom- 
ise of the incoming nth Panzer Division, 
some 300 men and 15 tanks masquerad- 
ing under the name of the once-great 
Panzer Lehr Division, another 600 men 
and 15 tanks under the seemingly im- 
perishable pth Panzer Division, and a 
company-size remnant of the 106th Pan- 
zer Brigade with 5 tanks. Once all troops 

1,1 MS # B-590, nth Panzer Division, 6-21 March 
] 945 (Generalleutnant Wend von Wietersheim). 



222 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



arrived, including relatively strong ar- 
tillery units, Bayerlein was to have ap- 
proximately 10,000 men grouped under 
the headquarters staff of the LIII Corps. 

When Model visited Bayerlein's new 
headquarters on 9 March, Bayerlein out- 
lined a plan to attack at dusk on 10 
March against the center of the bridge- 
head, then roll up the flanks. The main 
component was to be the Kampfgruppe 
of the Panzer Lehr Division; but when 
the bulk of that force failed to arrive on 
time, Model vetoed the entire plan. 17 
Model's first concern was to draw some 
kind of cordon around the bridgehead, 
but in the process he let pass the possi- 
bility of counterattacking before the 
Americans became too strong to be 
evicted. As American attacks continued, 
the incoming nth Panzer Division also 
became drawn into the defensive cordon 
and could launch only small, localized 
counterattacks. 

As for the Commander in Chief West, 
Field Marshal von Rundstedt, the loss of 
the Remagen bridge was the excuse Hit- 
ler needed to relieve the old soldier of 
his command. Already upset by Rund- 
stedt's failure to hold west of the Rhine, 
Hitler on 8 March summoned from Italy 
Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, 
longtime Commander in Chief South 
(OB SUED) . The next day Hitler told 
Kesselring to take charge in the west. In 
the process he emphasized that the 
Remagen bridgehead had to be wiped 
out in order to gain time for refitting and 
reorganizing the exhausted German 
units behind the moat of the Rhine. Kes- 
selring left Berlin for his unenviable 



"MSS # A-970, Remagen Bridgehead — LIII 
Corps (Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein) and # B- 
590 (Wietersheim). 




Field Marshal Kesselring 



assignment the night of 9 March, the 
relief , to be effective the next day. 18 

Build-up and Command Problems 

The First Army commander, General 
Hodges, had made various organizational 
shifts to enable the III Corps to exploit 
the Rhine crossing. During the night of 
7 March, he attached a second armored 
division, the 7th, to Millikin's corps, 
along with an antiaircraft battalion, an 
engineer treadway bridge company, and 
an amphibious truck company. He also 
relieved the 78th Division of its offen- 
sive mission with the V Corps south of 
the Ahr River and ordered the division 
to join its reserve regiment at Remagen. 

18 Kesselring's personal account of his steward- 
ship may be found in his memoirs, A Soldier's 
Record (New York: William Morrow and Com- 
pany, 1954), pp. 283ff. 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



223 



Finding troops to send to Remagen 
was easier than expected because resist- 
ance west of the Rhine collapsed so rap- 
idly. A final surge by the Third Army's 
late-running nth Armored Division to 
reach the Rhine at Brohl on 8 March 
took all semblance of organization out 
of the defense south of the Ahr, and the 
next day the 2d Division of the V Corps 
swept to the Rhine to link with the ar- 
mor. On those two days and the next, 
resistance was so indifferent that the 
corps artillery could find no targets. It 
was much the same in the sector of the 
VII Corps, where on 9 March the 1st 
Division eliminated the last defenders 
from the university city of Bonn, there 
to discover the Rhine bridge destroyed. 
The German commander in Bonn, Gen- 
eral von Bothmer, escaped to the east 
bank of the Rhine, only to be called be- 
fore a court-martial that stripped him of 
his rank, whereupon Bothmer shot him- 
self. 19 

For all the speed of the American 
thrusts, thousands of Germans made 
their way across the Rhine, mostly on 
ferries on in small river craft. In terms 
of prisoners taken, the pincers move- 
ment south of the Ahr was disappoint- 
ing — the V Corps, for example, in its 
drive to the Rhine, captured just over 
5,000 Germans, while the VII Corps 
between the Erft and the Rhine had 
been taking over i3,ooo. 20 Yet those Ger- 
mans who escaped did so in disarray, 
unit integrity in most cases gone; and 
behind them they left small mountains 
of equipment, ammunition, weapons, 
and vehicles. "While most ranking com- 
manders got across the Rhine, two — 

18 MS # C-020 (Schramm). 

20 V Corps Operations in the ETO, p. 401; VII 
Corps AAR, Mar 45. 



Generalleutnant Richard Schimpf, com- 
mander of the 3d Parachute Division, 
and Generalmajor Ludwig Heilmann, 
commander of the 5th Parachute Divi- 
sion — failed to make it. Both were cap- 
tured, as was General Rothkirch earlier. 

At Remagen and on the roads leading 
to the town, congestion was a serious 
problem. The ancient wall-encircled 
town of Zuelpich and bomb-devastated 
Euskirchen particularly were bottle- 
necks, but the worst difficulty was at the 
Ludendorff Bridge itself. Although mod- 
erately heavy German artillery fire fell 
almost constantly around the bridge, it 
failed to halt traffic for any period 
longer than a quarter-hour. The slow 
pace imposed on vehicles by the condi- 
tion of the bridge and by congestion on 
the east bank still served to back up 
traffic for several miles outside Re- 
magen. 

Almost from the start, the First Ar- 
my's General Hodges was dissatisfied 
with the way his corps commander, Gen- 
eral Millikin, handled the problems both 
at the bridge and in the bridgehead. 
Hodges and some members of his staff 
complained long and vocally that con- 
trol was poor on both sides of the river 
and that accurate information on troop 
dispositions beyond the Rhine was lack- 
ing. Even after the order passed down 
from General Eisenhower on 9 March 
to limit advances within the bridgehead, 
Hodges continued to chafe at what he 
considered slow, uninspired attacks that 
failed to push far enough east to relieve 
the bridge site of observed artillery fire. 

General Millikin on 9 March placed 
the commander of the 9th Armored Di- 
vision, General Leonard, in specific con- 
trol of all activity in the vicinity of the 
bridge and put all troops east of the 



224 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




LUDENDORFF RAILROAD BRIDGE AT RjEMAGEN 



river under the gth Infantry Division 
commander, General Craig; but Hodges 
continued to complain. Unaccustomed 
to working with Millikin, whose III 
Corps in months past had served under 
the Third Army, Hodges and his staff 
made no attempt "to hide the fact that 
everybody here wishes the bridgehead 
command had fallen to General Col- 
lins." 21 

Millikin's problems, on the other 
hand, were myriad. Although he himself 

21 Sylvan Diary, entry of 9 Mar 45; see also tele- 
phone messages in III Corps G— 3 Jnl file, 8-9 Mar 
45- 



was frequently at the bridge, getting ac- 
curate, timely information from the east 
bank was a frustrating chore. In the 
first days of an impromptu operation of 
this sort, there were bound to be short- 
ages of materiel and of specialized 
troops. One of these was in Signal Corps 
units. So frequently did vehicles and ar- 
tillery cut telephone lines laid across 
the railroad bridge and so often did de- 
bris and a swift current break wires 
strung in the river that telephone com- 
munications with the east bank were 
out about as much as they were in. 
Neither liaison officers, who often were 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



225 



delayed in threading their way back 
across the congested bridge, nor radio 
communications could solve the prob- 
lem entirely. 

Committing incoming infantry units 
on the far bank was a piecemeal propo- 
sition, geared both to when units ar- 
rived and to where the most pressing 
need existed at the time. Not even the 
various components of all regiments 
were able to stay together, and splitting 
the parts of divisions was the rule. This 
heightened problems of control that 
haste, improvisation, and the sharply 
compartmented terrain had already 
made bad enough. 

To General Millikin, the way to over- 
come his problems was not to make bold 
thrusts here and there but to expand the 
entire periphery of the bridgehead sys- 
tematically. On 8 March he ordered a 
controlled advance to three successive 
phase lines: the first — two and a half 
miles north and south of the Ludendorff 
Bridge and about two miles deep — de- 
signed to free the bridge site from small 
arms fire; the second designed to elimi- 
nate observed artillery fire; and the 
third — extending as far north as Bonn, 
as far south as Andernach, and east well 
beyond the autobahn — designed to free 
the bridge site of all shelling. 22 

As night fell on 10 March, the 78th 
Division's 311th Infantry had advanced 
beyond the first phase line and taken 
Honnef, almost five miles north of the 
bridge. Progress was marked too in the 
south, where the 27th Armored Infantry 
Battalion captured a village beyond the 



w III Corps Opnl Dir 10, 8 Mar 45; General 
Millikin's comments on the draft MS of this vol- 
ume. 



town of Linz, not quite three miles 
southeast of the bridge. 

In the high wooded hills east of the 
bridge progress was slower. There the 
9th Division's 60th Infantry had been 
able to go less than a mile from the 
river. German tenacity there could be 
explained in part by the rugged terrain 
but owed much also to relatively strong 
artillery support. Since artillery units 
had retreated across the Rhine ahead of 
the infantry and tanks, a number of 
them had reached the east bank in fair 
shape, particularly those a little farther 
north where advance of the VII Corps 
had shoved them across the Rhine be- 
fore the III Corps came up to the river 
at Remagen. A volks artillery corps 
from the north was committed early to 
the fighting east of Remagen, and other 
artillery units were on the way. Soon 
the Germans would be employing 
against the bridgehead some fifty 105- 
mm. barrels, another fifty 150-mm. how- 
itzers, and close to a dozen 210-mm. 
pieces. The shortage of ammunition 
rather than guns was the more serious 
problem. 23 

Although the extent of progress belied 
it, General Millikin intended the east- 
ward and southeastward thrusts to be his 
main effort, in keeping with the theory 
— advanced by both Bradley and Eisen- 
hower — that the troops in the bridge- 
head could best serve the over-all scheme 
by driving toward the Lahn River val- 
ley and the Frankfurt-Kassel corridor. 
At the same time, Millikin reasoned, 
such thrusts would also more quickly 
eliminate German observation on the 
bridge. General Hodges for his part 
wanted the III Corps first to push north- 

23 MS # B-547 (Generalleutnant Eduard Metz). 



226 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



ward in order to clear crossing sites for 
General Collins's VII Corps. Yet he 
failed to make this clear to Millikin un- 
til the fourth day, 11 March, when for 
the first time he crossed the Rhine into 
the bridgehead. Even then he issued no 
specific order, although he did make 
several allusions to the north and 
strongly suggested that the main effort 
be made in that direction. 24 

The suggestion was enough for Milli- 
kin. He promptly put emphasis behind 
the 78th Division's thrust by narrowing 
the division's sector and shifting the bulk 
of the 9th Division to the northeast. On 
the following day, 12 March, with the 
arrival of most of the 99th Infantry Di- 
vision in the bridgehead to take over the 
southern and southeastern portions of 
the periphery, he ordered all units 
shifted back to their parent divisions; but 
by that time, the chance for a really 
spectacular drive northward had passed. 

Indications that the going might be- 
come more difficult developed as early 
as 1 1 March, when contingents of the 
nth Panzer Division counterattacked at 
Honnef, temporarily regaining the 
town. 25 On the same day a second volks 
artillery corps reached the front. On 13 
March, as remnants of the 340th Volks 
Grenadier Division arrived, the German 
commander, General Bayerlein, put 
them into the line east of Honnef. Later 
in the day the 130th Infantry Regiment, 
a well-equipped and comparatively fresh 
separate unit of 2,000 men, arrived from 
the Netherlands. Although Bayerlein 
wanted to counterattack immediately 

24 Combat interview with Col Phillips, CofS III 
Corps; Sylvan Diary, entry of 11 Mar 45; Gen 
Millikin's comments on the draft MS of this vol- 
ume. 

^MSS # A-970 (Bayerlein) and # B-590 
(Wietersheim). 



with the 130th Infantry reinforced by 
tanks, Field Marshal Model ordered that 
the regiment be used to bring the 340th 
Volks Grenadier Division back to rea- 
sonable strength. Thus, the 130th too 
went into the defensive line. 20 

Unlike Bayerlein, Model believed that 
no decisive counterattack could be 
launched until sufficient infantry rein- 
forcement arrived to release the armored 
units from the line. In this he was sup- 
ported by General von Zangen, under 
whose Fifteenth Army Bayerlein's forces 
opposing the bridgehead operated. Yet 
in disagreement with Zangen, Model in- 
sisted that the strongest line be built in 
the north to thwart what he remained 
convinced would be the Americans' ma- 
jor thrust. At a meeting on 1 1 March 
with Model and the new Commander in 
Chief West, Field Marshal Kesselring, 
Zangen protested this line of thought. 
Field Marshal Kesselring for his part 
apparently sanctioned it, for Model's 
view prevailed. 27 

With disapproval of the plan to use 
the 130th Infantry offensively, General 
Bayerlein saw his last hope for an effec- 
tive counterattack pass. To Bayerlein, 
there was no chance of assembling suf- 
ficient forces to drive the Americans into 
the Rhine once they had gained addi- 
tional time to reinforce their bridge- 
head. 28 On the other hand, Model's 
decision did serve to slow operations in 
the sector where the American com- 
mander, General Millikin, now planned, 
temporarily, his main effort. Thus Gen- 
eral Hodges' dissatisfaction with Milli- 



28 See criticisms in MS # B-829 (General der 
Infanterie Gustav von Zangen). 

27 MSS # B-829 (Zangen) and # B-101 (General 
der Infanterie Otto Hitzfeld). 

28 MS # A-970 (Bayerlein). 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



227 



kin's handling o£ the bridgehead fight 
continued. 

At the bridge site, concentrated efforts 
were made from the start toward supple- 
menting the Ludendorff railroad bridge. 
One of the first units to arrive for the 
purpose was Naval Unit No. 1, a U.S. 
Navy force with twenty-four LCVP's 
(landing craft, vehicle and personnel) 
that had been attached to the First Army 
for some months in anticipation of the 
Rhine crossings. 29 Also quick to arrive 
was an engineer unit of the III Corps, 
the 86th Engineer Heavy Ponton Bat- 
talion, with orders to operate three fer- 
ries, one well north of the Ludendorff 
Bridge, one close to the bridge at Rem- 
agen, and the third well south of the 
bridge. As assembled by the engineers, 
the rafts were made of five pontons cov- 
ered with wooden flooring. Used as free 
ferries propelled by 22-hp. outboard 
motors, the craft began to operate as 
early as the morning of 9 March. The 
ferries and LCVP's were augmented on 
14 March by dukws (21^-ton amphibious 
trucks) of the 819th Amphibious Truck 
Company. 30 

Survey teams of the 1 1 1 ith and 1 159th 
Engineer Combat Groups, scheduled to 
build tactical bridges across the Rhine, 
reached Remagen during the morning 
of 8 March. Because of road priorities 
granted at first to infantry units and 
engineers who were to operate ferries, 
the bridging units themselves began to 



29 LCVP's could carry thirty-six soldiers with full 
combat equipment, vehicles up to the size of 3^-ton 
ambulances or trucks, or four tons of cargo. See 
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Invasion of France and 
Germany (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 

1957 >. PP- 317-23- 

30 For the engineer story, see AAR's of the engi- 
neer units, III Corps Engineer War Diary, and 
combat interviews with engineer officers. 



move to the river only during the night 
of 9 March. Construction of the first 
bridge, a treadway from Remagen to 
Erpel, began early on 10 March. 

Although jammed roads leading to 
Remagen continued to hamper bridge 
construction, the most serious delays de- 
rived from German artillery fire and air 
attacks. During 8 and 9 March, the Ger- 
mans maintained an average rate of one 
shell every two minutes in the vicinity 
of the bridge sites, but by 10 March, 
their fire had fallen off to four or five 
rounds per hour. 31 Artillery fire during 
the course of construction of the Rem- 
agen treadway bridge destroyed four 
cranes, two Brockway trucks, two air 
compressors, three dump trucks, and 
thirty-two floats. The treadway, never- 
theless, was opened for limited traffic at 
0700, 1 1 March, and for full use in late 
afternoon. A heavy ponton upstream at 
Linz was opened at midnight on the 
11th. On the 13th engineers closed the 
Ludendorff Bridge in order to repair 
damage caused by Captain Friesenhahn's 
emergency demolition. 

Unlike the artillery fire, German air 
attacks were more annoying than de- 
structive. A strong cordon of defenses 
around the bridge manned by the 16 th 
Antiaircraft Artillery Group, antiaircraft 
battalions borrowed from the divisions 
of the III Corps, and additional units 
transferred from the V Corps sharply 
interfered with German accuracy. On 1 2 
March, at the height of air attacks against 
the bridge, sixteen 90-mm. gun batteries 
were emplaced on the west bank of the 
Rhine and twenty-five batteries of auto- 
matic antiaircraft weapons were almost 
equally divided between the two banks, 

31 Sylvan Diary, entries of 8-10 Mar 45; III Corps 
AAR, Mar 45. 



228 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



probably the most intensive tactical 
grouping o£ antiaircraft weapons in the 
European theater during the course of 
the war. 32 

The Luftwaffe first struck at the rail- 
road bridge on the morning after Lieu- 
tenant Timmerman and his intrepid 
little band had crossed. Although low 
overcast interfered with flight, the Ger- 
mans made ten sweeps with a total of ten 
planes, most of them Stuka dive bomb- 
ers. None inflicted any damage on the 
bridge, and antiaircraft units claimed 
eight destroyed. 33 

Exhortation to the Luftwaffe to strike 
and strike again was one of the few 
immediate steps Field Marshal Kessel- 
ring could take toward eliminating the 
Ludendorff Bridge after he assumed 
command in the west on 10 March. He 
conferred that day with senior Luftwaffe 
commanders, urging them to knock out 
the bridge and any auxiliary bridges the 
Americans might construct. 

From 8 through 16 March, the Luft- 
waffe tried. The German planes struck 
at the railroad bridge, at the ferries, and 
at the tactical bridges, but with no suc- 
cess. Whenever the weather allowed, 
American planes flying cover over the 
bridgehead interfered; even when the 
German pilots got through the fighter 
screen, they ran into a dense curtain of 
antiaircraft fire. When they tried a 
stratagem of sending slow bombers in 
the lead to draw the antiaircraft fire, 
then following with speedy jet fighters, 
the Americans countered by withholding 
part of their fire until the jets appeared. 



32 A convenient summary of the antiaircraft de- 
fense may be found in 16th AAA Gp AAR, Anti- 
aircraft Artillery Defense of Rhine Bridges, 17 Mar 
45- 

33 III Corps AAR, Mar 45. 



American antiaircraft units estimated 
that during the nine days they destroyed 
109 planes and probably eliminated 36 
others out of a total of 367 that attacked. 

By three other means the Germans 
tried to destroy the railroad bridge. Soon 
after losing the bridge, they brought up a 
tank-mounted 540-mm. piece called the 
Karl Howitzer. The weapon itself 
weighed 132 tons and fired a projectile 
of 4,400 pounds, but after only a few 
rounds that did no damage except to 
random houses, the weapon had to be 
evacuated for repairs. From 12 through 
17 March a rocket unit with weapons 
em placed in the Netherlands fired eleven 
supersonic V-2's in the direction of the 
bridge, the first and only tactical use of 
either of the so-called German V-weapons 
(Vergeltungswaffen, for vengeance) dur- 
ing World War II. One rocket hit a 
house 300 yards east of the bridge, killing 
three American soldiers and wounding 
fifteen. That was the only damage. Three 
landed in the river not far from the 
bridge, five others west of the bridge, 
and one near Cologne; one was never 
located. 34 

The night of 16 March, the Germans 
tried a third method — seven underwater 
swimmers in special rubber suits and 
carrying packages of plastic explosive 
compound — but from the first the 
Americans had anticipated such a gam- 
bit. During the first few days of the 
bridgehead, before nets could be strung 
across the river, they dropped demolition 
charges to discourage enemy swimmers 

34 SHAEF Air Defense Division, Summary of 
Casualties and Damage from V-Weapon Attack, 
Report for the Week Ending 19 March 1945; 
British War Office, The German Long-Range 
Rocket Programme, 1930-1945, MIA4/14, 30 Oct 
45, copy in OCMH; Royce L. Thompson, Military 
Impact of the German V-Weapons, MS in OCMH. 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



229 



and stationed riflemen at intervals along 
the railroad bridge to fire at suspicious 
objects. Later, with nets in place, they 
stationed tanks equipped with search- 
lights along the river. 

When the German swimmers first tried 
to reach the bridge, American artillery 
fire discouraged them from entering the 
water. On the next night, the 17th, they 
moved not against the railroad bridge 
but against tactical ponton bridges, only 
to be spotted by the American search- 
lights. Blinded by the lights, the seven 
Germans, one by one, surrendered. 

While these events occurred along the 
Rhine, gains in the bridgehead con- 
tinued to be steady but unspectacular, 
and General Hodges remained displeased 
with General Millikin's conduct of the 
battle. On 15 March Hodges discussed 
with the 12th Army Group commander, 
General Bradley, the possibility of re- 
lieving Millikin. "Mind you," Hodges 
remarked, "I have only the greatest ad- 
miration and respect for the GIs doing 
the fighting out there, but I think they 
have had bad leadership in this bridge- 
head battle." 35 Bradley left Hodges' 
headquarters agreeing to look for a re- 
placement for the III Corps commander. 

Two days later General Van Fleet, 
former commander of the 90th Division, 
arrived at Hodges' headquarters to take 
Millikin's place. Shortly before 1500, 
Hodges telephoned Millikin. 

"I have some bad news for you," 
Hodges said, then went on to inform him 
of his relief. 

The III Corps commander waited un- 
til Hodges had finished. 

"Sir," he said finally, "I have some bad 




General Van Fleet. (Photograph 
taken in 1951.) 

news for you too. The railroad bridge 
has just collapsed." 36 

The End of the Bridge 

It happened during a period of rela- 
tive quiet. No German planes were 
around, and German artillery was silent. 
About 200 American engineers with 
their equipment were working on the 
bridge. 

The first indication that anything was 
wrong was a sharp report like the crack 
of a rifle. Then another. The deck of 
the bridge began to tremble. The entire 
deck vibrated and swayed. Dust rose 
from the planking. It was every man for 
himself. 



Sylvan Diary, entry of 15 Mar 45. 



Ibid., entry of 17 Mar 45. 



230 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



With a grinding roar of tearing steel, 
the Ludendorff railroad bridge slipped, 
sagged, and with a convulsive twist 
plunged into the Rhine. Of those work- 
ing on the bridge at the time, 93 were 
injured, 38 killed. 

The collapse of the bridge could be 
attributed to no one specific factor but 
rather to a combination of things, some 
even antedating the emergency demoli- 
tion. As far back as 1940 Allied planes 
had launched sporadic attacks against the 
bridge, and in late 1944 had damaged it 
to such an extent that it was unservice- 
able for fifteen days. Then came the 
heavy planking to convert the bridge for 
vehicles; the assault by the 27th Armored 
Infantry Battalion's Company A and the 
fire of the big Pershing tanks that ac- 
companied it; Friesenhahn's emergency 
demolition; the drumbeat of hundreds 
of infantry feet; the heavy tread of tanks 
and other vehicles; the pounding of Ger- 
man artillery; the vibrations from Ger- 
man bombs, from American antiaircraft 
pieces and big 8-inch howitzers emplaced 
nearby, from the near misses of the V— 
?'s; and then the weight of heavy engi- 
neer equipment as the Americans tried 
to repair the bridge. All had to be borne 
by the downstream truss alone after 
Friesenhahn's demolition so damaged the 
upstream truss that it was useless. In the 
end, it was too much for one weakened 
truss. 37 

More speculative is the explanation of 
why the German demolitions failed, in 
the first place, to destroy the Ludendorff 
Bridge. Sabotage, for example, either by 
a German soldier or a foreign laborer, 



37 Combat interview with Lt Col Clayton A. Rust, 
CO 276th Engineer Combat Bn. 



hardly could be ruled out. 38 Since the, 
electric circuit designed to set off the 
main demolitions had been tested shortly 
before it was to be used and was in order, 
something happened to the circuit 
shortly before Friesenhahn turned the 
key. Most Germans familiar with the 
events believed that a lucky hit from an 
American shell — probably fired by a 
tank — severed the main cable leading to 
the demolitions. The Americans them- 
selves conducted no immediate post- 
mortem, and once the bridge had fallen 
into the Rhine, the evidence was gone. 

Whether the reason could be ascer- 
tained or not, Hitler at the time was 
determined to find scapegoats to pay for 
the debacle. He convened a special 3-man 
military tribunal that acted with little 
regard for legal niceties. 39 The tribunal 
condemned to death two majors who had 
commanded engineer troops in the vi- 
cinity of the bridge, Herbert Strobel and 
August Kraft; a lieutenant of Flakartil- 
lerie, Karl Heinz Peters; the major sent 
by General Hitzfeld of the LXVII Corps 
to assume tactical command at the 
bridge, Hans Scheller; and the previous 
tactical commander, Captain Bratge. 
The engineer in charge of demolitions, 
Captain Friesenhahn, who had been cap- 
tured by the Americans, was acquitted 
in absentia. Because Bratge too was an 
American prisoner, he survived. The 
other four died before firing squads. 

Expansion of the Bridgehead 

The loss of the Ludendorff Bridge had 
no effect on operations in the Remagen 
bridgehead. The bridge had been closed 

88 Hechler, in The Bridge at Remagen, pages 
2i 2-20, analyzes the various speculations in detail. 
39 Ibid., pp. 192-212. 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



231 




The Rhine at the Remagen Bridge Site. (Photograph taken in 1948.) 



for repairs since 1 3 March, and the forces 
in the bridgehead already were accus- 
tomed to working without it. General 
Hodges nevertheless quickly authorized 
construction of a floating Bailey bridge 
about a mile downstream from Remagen. 
In a remarkable engineering feat, the 
Bailey bridge was completed in just un- 
der forty-eight hours and opened for 
traffic on 20 March. 40 

One reason for a new bridge was the 
presence of a new force in the Remagen 



III Corps Engineer War Diary, 120600 Mar 45. 



bridgehead. Beginning early on 15 
March, the 1st Division of General Col- 
lins's VII Corps had crossed the Rhine 
over the III Corps bridges and on ferries, 
and at noon the next day, Collins as- 
sumed responsibility for the northern 
portion of the bridgehead. In the process, 
Collins's corps absorbed the 78th Di- 
vision. 

The specific role the Supreme Com- 
mander, General Eisenhower, intended 
the Remagen bridgehead to play in fu- 
ture operations meanwhile had been 
made clear on 13 March. The bridge- 



232 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



head, Eisenhower directed, was to be 
used to draw enemy units from the Ruhr 
area opposite the 2 1 Army Group and 
from the 6th Army Group's Rhine cross- 
ing sites in the south. Although an ex- 
ploitation eventually might be made in 
the direction of Frankfurt, a minimum 
of ten First Army divisions had to be 
reserved for the time being as a possible 
"follow-up force" for the 21 Army 
Group, still designated to make the Al- 
lied main effort. 41 

From this restriction, it was obvious 
that Eisenhower had no wish to see the 
bridgehead expanded appreciably. Gen- 
eral Bradley in turn told the First Army 
to advance no farther than a line ap- 
proximately twenty-five miles wide at the 
base along the Rhine and ten miles deep, 
in effect, a slight expansion of the third 
phase line that the III Corps commander, 
General Millikin, earlier had imposed. 42 

The First Army's General Hodges dis- 
agreed, though to no avail. Like almost 
everybody at First Army headquarters, 
Hodges was piqued about the elaborate 
preparations Field Marshal Montgomery 
was making for his 2 1 Army Group's 
crossing of the Rhine and the emphasis 
General Eisenhower continued to place 
on that crossing when, in Hodges' view, 
a breakout from the Remagen bridge- 
head could have been staged at will. 
With evident amusement he listened to 
the story — probably apocryphal — of how 
the 21 Army Group on 7 March had 
asked Supreme Headquarters to stage a 
diversion before Montgomery jumped 
the Rhine and how, five minutes later, 
SHAEF passed the word that the First 



"SCAF 232, SHAEF to Bradley, 13 Mar 45, in 
12th AGp Military Objectives, 371.3, vol. VI. Quote 
is from Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 517. 

" 12th AGp Ltr of Instrs No. 17, 13 Mar 45. 



Army had already staged a diversion; the 
First Army had crossed the Rhine. 43 

While advances in the Remagen 
bridgehead continued to average only 
about a thousand yards a day, Hodges 
was convinced this was less a reflection 
of German strength than of timidity in 
American attacks. By 17 March the Ger- 
man order of battle opposite the bridge- 
head sounded impressive on paper — in 
addition to those units early committed, 
the Germans had brought in contingents 
of the 26th, 62d, 2j2dj 2jjth, and 326th 
Folks Grenadier Divisions; the 3d and 
5th Parachute Divisions; and the 3d Pan- 
zer Grenadier Division — but in no case 
were these real divisions. All were "bat- 
talion-size Kampfgruppen or else had 
been fleshed out to something more than 
regimental strength with inexperienced 
replacements culled from various Wehr- 
kreise up and down the Rhine. 44 In most 
cases the Americans characterized the re- 
sistance as "moderate to light." Although 
the German defense appeared to be "or- 
derly," the more serious problem was 
difficult terrain. 45 

By 16 March, when troops of the 78th 
Division made the first cut of the Ruhr- 
Frankfurt autobahn northeast of Hon- 
nef, expansion of the bridgehead had 
proceeded to the point where artillery 
no longer was able to support the attacks 
properly from the west bank of the 
Rhine. As artillery units began to cross 
the river, engineers supporting the VII 
Corps began construction of three more 
tactical bridges to care for the increased 
logistical burden. Keyed to the north- 
ward advance of the infantry east of the 



43 Sylvan Diary, entry of 15 Mar 45, and passim. 
" III Corps and VII Corps AAR's Mar 45, and 
pertinent German MSS. 
"Ill Corps AAR, Mar 45. 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



233 



Rhine, the first of the bridges was com- 
pleted late on 17 March, another on 19 
March, and a third, located at the south- 
ern fringe of Bonn, on 21 March. 
Screened by smoke from chemical gen- 
erators, the engineers incurred only one 
casualty during the course of construc- 
tion. 46 

Of all the American attacks, those to 
the north and northeast by the 1st and 
78th Divisions continued to bother the 
German army group commander most. 
More than ever convinced that the 
Americans intended to make their main 
effort northward toward the Ruhr, Field 
Marshal Model recognized that a strong 
counterattack had to be staged soon or 
the Americans would breach the natural 
defensive line in the north, the Sieg 
River, which enters the Rhine just down- 
stream from Bonn, and then be ready for 
exploitation. 

On 19 March Model began to strip all 
armored units from the eastern and 
southern portions of the line to assemble 
them in the north for counterattack. In 
the process, he introduced the LXXIV 
Corps to command the northern sector, 
then ordered the commander, General 
Puechler, to exchange places with the 
tank expert, General Bayerlein of the 
LIII Corps,, thereby reversing the two 
corps headquarters. As finally consti- 
tuted, the ring around the Remagen 
bridgehead involved the LIII Corps un- 
der Bayerlein in the north, the LXXIV 
Corps under Peuchler in the center, and 
the LXVII Corps under General Hitz- 
feld in the south. 47 

Unfortunately for Model's plan, the 



46 VII Corps Engineer Office, Rhine Crossings of 
VII Corps; VII Corps AAR, Mar 45. 

47 MSS # A-970 (Bayerlein); # B-829 (Zangen); 
# B-101 (Hitzfeld). 



Americans afforded no pause in their 
attacks. Once relieved from the line, the 
depleted German armored units had to 
be committed piecemeal again to try to 
block the continuing thrusts. Although 
this produced occasional intense combat, 
particularly at towns or villages blocking 
main highways, nowhere was it sufficient 
to stall or throw back the infantry of 
the two American divisions. Operating 
with only normal tank and tank de- 
stroyer attachments, the 78th Division 
on 2 1 March gained the Sieg River, the 
northern limit of the bridgehead as au- 
thorized by General Bradley. At that 
point the corps commander, General Col- 
lins, attached to the 78th Division a 
combat command of the 3d Armored 
Division to attack east along the south 
bank of the Sieg. By 22 March the di- 
visions of the VII Corps had reached the 
final bridgehead line, both at the Sieg 
River and along the west bank of the 
little Hanf Creek that empties into the 
Sieg just over nine miles east of the 
Rhine. 

The 9th and 99th Divisions of the III 
Corps, commanded now by General Van 
Fleet, profited from the shift of German 
armor to the north. On 18 March the 
gth Division at last cut the autobahn, 
while patrols from the ggth Division 
reached the meandering Wied River al- 
most due east of Remagen. Other con- 
tingents of the 99th Division drove 
swiftly southward close along the Rhine 
almost to a point opposite Andernach. 
By 20 March the III Corps had reached 
the prescribed bridgehead line. 

As both corps neared the planned line, 
General Hodges at the First Army's 
headquarters fretted at the restrictions 
still binding his troops. Watching with 
admiration far-reaching drives west of 



234 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



the Rhine by the Third Army, Hodges 
was convinced the end for Germany was 
near. "The war is over, I tell you," he 
kept repeating to his colleagues; "the 
war is over." 48 

The next day, ig March, as pleasant 
but unfounded rumors swept the First 
Army of an impending armistice, Hodges 
flew, at the 12th Army Group command- 
er's behest, to meet General Bradley in 
Luxembourg City. During the morning, 
Hodges learned, Bradley had conferred 
with General Eisenhower. In anticipa- 
tion of an early attack by Montgomery's 
2i Army Group to cross the Rhine, 
Hodges was authorized to send a maxi- 
mum of nine divisions into the Remagen 
bridgehead. From 23 March on, he was 
to be prepared to break out to the south- 
east, the main objective to be Limburg 
and the Lahn River valley and linkup 
with Third Army troops once Patton's 
forces crossed the Rhine. 49 

The wraps thus were about to be re- 
moved from the First Army, though the 
final unveiling was predicated on Mont- 
gomery's crossing the Rhine. The date 
for the First Army's big push later would 
be set for 25 March. 

In preparation for the attack, Hodges 
on the 21st sent General Huebner's V 
Corps into the bridgehead to take over 
the southern periphery from the 99th 
Division. When the attack date came, 
nine divisions, including three armored 
divisions, would be ready for the ex- 
ploitation. 

It remained for the Germans to write 
a final, futile postscript to the Remagen 
bridgehead fighting. On 24 March, still 
imbued with the idea that the Americans 



Sylvan Diary, entry of 18 Mar 45. 
Ibid., entries of 19-20 Mar 45. 



were aiming directly for the Ruhr, Field 
Marshal Model managed to assemble the 
bulk of the German armor for his long- 
delayed counterattack under the direc- 
tion of General Bayerlein. Yet when the 
Germans struck the divisions of the VII 
Corps, their efforts were poorly co-ordi- 
nated and far too weak for the job. It 
was, in effect, not one counterattack but 
several small ones that brought intense 
fighting at various points but, in the end, 
gained nothing. The Germans merely 
frittered away irreplaceable troops that 
would be needed desperately the next 
day elsewhere along the periphery of the 
Remagen bridgehead and already were 
needed at other points on the elongated 
Rhine front, where on 23 March porten- 
tous events had begun to occur. 

The capture of the Ludendorff rail- 
road bridge and its subsequent exploita- 
tion was one of those coups de theatre 
that sometimes happen in warfare and 
never fail to capture the imagination. 
Just how much it speeded the end of the 
war is another question. The bridgehead 
dealt a serious blow to German morale 
that may well have been partly responsi- 
ble for lackluster resistance at other 
points, and it served as a magnet to draw 
a measure of fighting strength from other 
sites. On the other hand, the German 
Army clearly would have been beaten 
without it, perhaps just as quickly. 50 

From 7 through 24 March, the Rem- 
agen bridgehead fighting cost the III 
Corps approximately 5,500 casualties, in- 
cluding almost 700 killed and 600 
missing. The VII Corps, from 16 through 
24 March, incurred not quite 1,900 
casualties, including 163 killed and 240 



w For a German view, see Wagener, MS # A- 
965. 



A RHINE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN 



235 



missing. In the same time span, the Ger- 
mans lost more than 11,700 men as 
prisoners alone. 

When the First Army attacked again 
on 25 March, a new war of movement 
even more spectacular than that dis- 



played in the drive to the Rhine was to 
open. A precursor of what it would be 
like was to be seen in a drive already 
underway by the Third Army into the 
Saar-Palatinate. 



CHAPTER XII 

The Saar-Palatinate 



General Patton of the Third Army 
was "just a little envious" of the First 
Army's Rhine crossing at Remagen. 1 
Yet there was little he could do immedi- 
ately — once the 4th Armored Division 
had turned away from the Rhine — to 
emulate it. The Third Army was obli- 
gated to assist in a pending drive to 
eliminate the last German position west 
of the Rhine, and Patton himself was 
eager to expand his army's part in that 
operation from support to major effort. 

The position to be erased had become 
known to American planners and com- 
manders, after the political entity that 
made up the bulk of the area, as the 
Saar-Palatinate. Lying south of the Mo- 
selle, the area embraced more than 3,000 
square miles and included the Saar in- 
dustrial region, the old Bavarian Palati- 
nate, part of the provinces of Rhineland 
and Hessen, and a belt of French terri- 
tory along the Franco-German border in 
the northeastern corner of Alsace. Near 
the southern base of the region stood 
the West Wall, there stronger than any- 
where else. On the western edge, Gen- 
eral Walker's XX Corps, having cleared 
the Saar-Moselle triangle and captured 
Trier, had already pierced the West 
Wall; the rest of the Third Army, hav- 
ing conquered the Eifel, was in behind 
the German defenders. 



1 Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 254. 



To the Allies, the Saar-Palatinate had 
been an important goal since preinva- 
sion planning days. The Saar was second 
only to the Ruhr as a source of Ger- 
many's war-making muscle, and the 
region screened feasible Rhine crossing 
sites lying between Mainz and Mann- 
heim. Both the Third Army and Gen- 
eral Devers's 6th Army Group needed 
access to those crossing sites to assure 
their logical roles in the final broad- 
front advance into the heart of Ger- 
many. 

From the German viewpoint, the 
Saar-Palatinate was important both for 
its economic significance and for the 
military obstacle it posed to Allied ar- 
mies. Based on the nearby iron ore of 
Lorraine and on extensive coal fields in 
the Saar River basin around Saar- 
bruecken, the heavy industry of the 
Saar contributed 10 percent of Ger- 
many's iron and steel capacity. Coal pro- 
duction totaled 7,000,000 tons annually. 
Despite the proximity of Allied troops 
and almost daily raids by Allied planes, 
the Germans in early March still were 
shipping twelve trainloads of coal daily 
to plants east of the Rhine, and the 
foundries of the Saar continued to 
operate. At Homburg, northeast of Saar- 
bruecken, stood one of the comparatively 
few synthetic oil plants still producing 
in the Reich; and at Ludwigshafen, 
across the Rhine from Mannheim, some 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



237 



40 to 50 percent of the nation's entire 
output of chemicals was centered in an 
I. G. Farben plant. The industry of 
small cities such as Kaiserslautern, 
Speyer, and Worms also was impor- 
tant. 2 

As a miiltary obstacle, the Saar- 
Palatinate drew strength not only from 
the West Wall but also from the built- 
up industrial region, from deep stream 
valleys, and from mountainous terrain. 
Along the northern boundary twists the 
deep valley of the Moselle, backed by 
the Hunsrueck Mountains, higher than 
the Eifel. Along the western and south- 
ern boundaries, the Saar and the Lauter 
Rivers pose similar barriers, the former 
also backed by the Hunsrueck Moun- 
tains, the latter by the densely forested 
Haardt or Lower Vosges Mountains, ris- 
ing as high as 2,300 feet. Between the 
Hunsrueck and the Haardt lies the 
Pfaelzer Bergland, or Palatinate High- 
land. 

The watershed between the Pfaelzer 
Bergland and the Haardt Mountains is 
high and narrow but also relatively flat 
and traversed by a good highway leading 
from Saarbruecken through Kaiserslau- 
tern to the Rhine in the vicinity of 
Worms, thus constituting a small corri- 
dor with considerable military utility. 
This corrider has become known as the 
Kaiserslautern Gap. A northeastward 
extension of the Metz Gap in Lorraine, 
it is one of only two logical passages 
through the Saar-Palatinate for sizable 



a The Seventh United States Army Report of 
Operations, France and Germany, 1944-1945, vol. 
Ill, p. 695, a comprehensive three-volume work 
prepared with the assistance of historical officers 
attached to the Seventh Army (hereafter cited as 
Seventh Army Report). See also MS # B-600, 
Army Group G, Report of the Commander (Gen- 
eraloberst Paul Hausser). 



military forces. The other, the Wissem- 
bourg Gap, whence the Prussians de- 
bouched against France in 1870, opens 
a way from the northeastern corner of 
France into the valley of the Rhine. 

The man responsible for defending 
the Saar-Palatinate was General Hausser, 
who had assumed command of Army 
Group G near the end of January after 
recovering from a wound incurred 
while commanding an army in France 
the preceding summer. In addition to 
the First Army, which long had held the 
Saar front, Hausser's command at first 
had included the Nineteenth Army, 
formerly a part of that anomaly called 
Army Group Oberrhein; but as the 
Nineteenth Army in early February 
withdrew under pressure from the Col- 
mar pocket to the east bank of the 
Rhine, one by one its combat divisions 
had been commandeered for more active 
fronts. In early March, as the drive by 
Patton's Third Army threatened to rid- 
dle the Eifel and expose the long line 
of the Moselle, thereby prompting OB 
WEST to shift the Seventh Army in the 
Eifel to Hausser's command, the Nine- 
teenth Army passed to direct control of 
the Commander in Chief West. 

In most ways, the shift was a case of 
plus ga change, plus c'est la meme chose. 
Yet Hausser's responsibility for the 
Seventh Army meant that his point of 
main danger shifted from the Kaisers- 
lautern and Wissembourg Gaps to the 
winding trench of the Moselle facing the 
Eifel. 

Unless additional units could be sent 
to bolster the Seventh Army, Hausser 
notified OB WEST, successive withdraw- 
als back to the Rhine was the best Army 
Group G could hope to accomplish. 
"Otherwise," Hausser warned, "envelop- 



238 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



ment and annihilation of First Army 
will be imminent." 3 

The answer from Field Marshal von 
Rundstedt, acting out his last days as 
Commander in Chief West, was suc- 
cinct, uncompromising. 

Hold the Saar-Palatinate. 

American Plans 

For the Americans, clearing the Saar- 
Palatinate would be a return to unfin- 
ished business that the Third and Sev- 
enth Armies had been conducting in 
December when forced to retrench to 
help defeat the Ardennes counter- 
offensive and Operation NORDWIND, 
the secondary counteroffensive in Al- 
sace. Both armies had reached the West 
Wall guarding the Saar-Palatinate in 
December. The Third Army had forged 
two bridgeheads into the fortified line, 
one of which, at Saarlautern, remained 
intact. The Seventh Army had cleared 
northeastern Alsace and jumped the 
Lauter River at two points to confront 
the West Wall, but the necessity to 
spread out in order to free Third Army 
units for the Ardennes and to recoil be- 
fore Operation NORDWIND had forced 
withdrawals, in some places as much as 
nineteen miles. Through most of Febru- 
ary the Seventh Army had staged limited 
objective attacks to straighten lines and 
gain favorable ground for a major of- 
fensive against the Saar-Palatinate. Nev- 
ertheless, by the end of the first week in 
March, most of the northeastern corner 
of Alsace still was in German hands. The 
front departed from the Saar River near 
Sarreguemines and extended almost di- 



rectly so utheast thro ugh Hagenau to the 
Rhine. 4 



(Map IX) 



Anticipating early completion of op- 
erations to clear the west bank of the 
Rhine north of the Moselle, General 
Eisenhower on 13 February had told his 
two American army group commanders, 
Bradley and Devers, to begin planning 
for a joint drive to sweep the Saar- 
Palatinate. Assigned a target date of 15 
March, the offensive was to begin only 
after the 21 Army Group had reached 
the Rhine. It was to be designed both to 
draw enemy units from the north and to 
provide an alternate line of attack across 
the Rhine should the principal Allied 
drive in the north fail. The main effort, 
SHAEF planners contemplated, was to 
be made by the 6th Army Group's Sev- 
enth Army, which was to be augmented 
by transferring one armored and three 
infantry divisions from the Third 
Army. 5 

During the first week of March, Gen- 
eral Devers at 6th Army Group approved 
a plan (Operation Undertone) pre- 
pared by General Patch's Seventh Army. 
Three corps were to attack abreast from 
Saarbruecken to a point southeast of 
Hagenau. A narrow strip along the 
Rhine leading to the extreme northeast- 
ern corner of Alsace at Lauterbourg was 
to be cleared by a division of the First 
French Army under operational control 
of the Seventh Army. The Seventh Ar- 
my's main effort was to be made in the 
center up the Kaiserslautern corridor. 6 



8 MS # B-600 (Hausser). 



1 These actions are covered in Robert Ross Smith, 
The Riviera to the Rhine, a forthcoming volume 
in the UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD 
WAR II series. 

5 SHAEF GCT/37057/Plans, Note on Early Con- 
centration for Saar Offensives, 14 Feb 45, SHAEF 
files. 

6 Seventh Army Report, pp. 698-99. 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



239 




General Devers. (Photograph taken 
in late 1945.) 

Approving the plan in turn, General 
Eisenhower noted that the objective was 
not only to clear the Saar-Palatinate but 
also to establish bridgeheads with forces 
of the 6th Army Group over the Rhine 
between Mainz and Mannheim. The 
12th Army Group (i.e., the Third 
Army) , he also noted, was to be limited 
to diversionary attacks across the Mo- 
selle to protect the 6th Army Group's 
left flank. 7 

Eisenhower approved on 8 March, the 
same day that General Patton obtained 
approval from General Bradley for the 
plan prepared by the Third Army staff 
for a major attack across the Moselle. 8 

' FWD 17655, SHAEF to Devers and Bradley, 
081650 Mar 45, SHAEF SGS Post-OvERLORD Plan- 
ning file, 381, III. 

8 See above, ch. X; Gay Diary, entry of 8 Mar 45. 



The 12 th Army Group commander in 
turn promoted the plan with General 
Eisenhower. 9 Noting that the Germans 
had given no indication of withdrawing 
from the West Wall in front of the Sev- 
enth Army and that General Patch thus 
might be in for a long, costly campaign, 
Bradley suggested that the Third Army 
jump the Moselle near Koblenz, sweep 
south along the west bank of the Rhine 
to cut the enemy's supply lines, and at 
the same time press from its previously 
established Saar-Moselle bridgehead 
near Trier to come at the West Wall for- 
tifications from the rear. General Eisen- 
hower approved the plan without quali- 
fication. 10 

While the proposal to employ the 
Third Army in the Saar-Palatinate was 
based on sound tactical considerations, 
Bradley and Patton both also saw it as a 
way of getting the Third Army in- 
volved, thereby obviating loss of divi- 
sions either to Montgomery's 21 Army 
Group or to Devers's 6th Army Group. 11 
Yet the stratagem proved unnecessary as 
far as the 21 Army Group was con- 
cerned, since General Eisenhower told 
Field Marshal Montgomery that if ten 
U.S. divisions went north to help the 21 
Army Group, Bradley's 12 th Army 
Group headquarters would also move 
north to command the First and Ninth 
Armies. That may have played a part in 
silencing Montgomery on the subject of 



"Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 516. 

10 Ibid. A plan for a combined Third-Seventh 
Army thrust to clear the Saar-Palatinate had been 
prepared at 12th Army Group as early as February, 
when flooding of the Roer River appeared likely 
to delay Operation Grenade indefinitely. See Col. 
Harrison H. D. Heiberg, Study of Future Opera- 
tions, 12th AGp Miscellaneous Log 214. 

11 Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 255. 



240 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



additional American divisions to exploit 
his Rhine crossing. 12 

The stratagem only partially suc- 
ceeded with the 6th Army Group; Brad- 
ley at last felt compelled to relinquish 
two divisions, the 4th Infantry and 6th 
Armored, the latter already designated 
as SHAEF reserve. Although he agreed 
to part with a third, impending arrival 
of the last serials of a new division from 
the United States made it unnecessary. 
As the target date for the Saar-Palatinate 
campaign neared, the 6th Army Group 
had eleven infantry and three armored 
divisions in the Seventh Army, plus the 
First French Army. The Third Army 
retained twelve divisions, four of them 
armored. 

Although General Devers was briefly 
reluctant to endorse Third Army oper- 
ations south of the Moselle lest the two 
forces become entangled with their con- 
verging thrusts, he too in the end ap- 
proved the plan. He and Bradley agreed 
on a new boundary that afforded the 
Third Army a good road leading north- 
east from Saarlautern to headwaters of 
the Nahe River, some thirty-five miles 
northeast of Saarlautern, thence along 
the valley of the Nahe to the Rhine at 
Bingen. This boundary gave the Third 
Army responsibility for clearing the 
northwestern third of the Saar- 
Palatinate. Bradley and Devers also au- 
thorized the commanders of the two 
armies, Third and Seventh, to deal di- 
rectly with each other rather than 
through their respective army group 
headquarters. Patton and the Seventh 
Army commander, General Patch, 
agreed in turn that once operations were 



"ibid., pp. 517-18. 




General Patch 



under way, Patton's right corps and 
Patch's left might also deal directly. 13 
Facing the undented fortifications of 
the West Wall, the Seventh Army com- 
mander planned a set-piece attack, pre- 
ceded by an extensive program of aerial 
bombardment. Before the attack could 
begin, supplies had to be accumulated, 
division and corps boundaries adjusted, 
some units shuffled, and new divisions 
joining the army fed into jump-off posi- 
tions. 14 This meant to General Patch 



"Msg, 6th AGp to SHAEF, 081708 Mar 45, 
SHAEF SGS file, 381, III; 12th AGp Ltr of Instrs 
17, 13 Mar 45. 

14 In a local attack on 13 March to better posi- 
tions for start of the offensive, T. Sgt. Moiris E. 
Crain of the 36th Division's 141st Infantry pro- 
vided exemplary leadership without regard for 
his own safety through much of the day, then 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



241 



that the Seventh Army could not attack 
before the target date, 15 March. 

General Patton, on the other hand, 
based his entire plan for participation 
in the Saar-Palatinate on exploiting dis- 
organization in German ranks resulting 
from his Eifel drive. The sooner he 
could start the better his chances for far- 
reaching results. He saw no point in 
waiting for the Seventh Army. 

That was part of the reasoning behind 
Patton's preoccupation with bridges 
over the Moselle which resulted in shift- 
ing the 4th Armored Division away 
from the Rhine on 9 March. 15 When the 
attempt to capture a bridge intact across 
the Moselle failed, Patton turned to a 
deliberate attack to be opened with a 
strike by the XX Corps on 12 March. 

While the 76th Division, transferred 
from the XII Corps, took over an earlier 
assignment given the XX Corps to clear 
a narrow sector along the north bank 
of the Moselle, the rest of the XX Corps 
was to drive east from the Saar River 
bridgehead south of Trier, the bridge- 
head established as a corollary of the 
operations to clear the Saar-Moselle tri- 
angle. As soon as regrouping was com- 
plete, General Eddy's XII Corps was to 
jump the lower Moselle near Koblenz 
and head for Bingen, at the juncture of 
the Nahe and the Rhine, and for Bad 
Kreuznach, a few miles upstream on the 
Nahe. Walker and Eddy thus were, in 
effect, to make converging attacks that, 
if unaltered later, would join along the 



stayed behind as a one-man covering force when 
a tank-supported counterattack forced his platoon 
to withdraw. Sergeant Crain died when German 
fire demolished the building from which he was 
fighting. He was awarded the Medal of Honor 
posthumously. 
15 See above, ch. X. 



Nahe River. General Middleton's VIII 
Corps, meanwhile, was to hold the west 
bank of the Rhine above Koblenz, finish 
the mop-up in the Eifel, and eventually 
reduce Koblenz. If, in the process of its 
watch on the Rhine, the VIII Corps saw 
a chance to jump the river, Middleton 
was to allow it to do so. 16 

Those were the written orders. While 
they conformed to the established bound- 
ary with the Seventh Army along the 
Nahe River, General Patton from the 
first intended that the boundary impose 
no restrictions on his maneuver. Orally, 
he told his corps commanders that the 
objective was to establish bridgeheads 
over the Rhine in the vicinity of Mainz, 
Oppenheim, and Worms — the same sites 
he had picked the preceding summer, 
long before the detour to Bastogne and 
through the Eifel. 17 All three sites lay in 
what was then the Seventh Army zone. 
Patton clearly anticipated a swift break- 
through and rapid exploitation that 
would impel further boundary adjust- 
ment. 

The Defenders 

As indicated by the warnings of the 
Army Group G commander, General 
Hausser, that his forces could hope to 
accomplish no more than a fighting with- 
drawal from the Saar-Palatinate, the Ger- 
man situation conformed to Patton's 
expectations. Even had the problem re- 
mained merely to defend the old First 
Army front from Trier to the Rhine, 
most of it bolstered by West Wall fortifi- 
cations, Hausser's units would have been 
hard put to hold. As it was, Hausser had 
to thin already dangerously stretched 

10 TUSA Opnl Dir, 10 Mar 45. 

17 Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 354. 



242 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



First Army units in an effort to 
strengthen his new charge, the Seventh 
Army, along the Moselle. 18 

In the retreat from the Eifel, General 
Felber's Seventh Army lost not only 
thousands of soldiers but a corps head- 
quarters, the LIU Corps. Split away from 
the rest of the army by the U.S. 4th 
Armored Division's plunge to the Rhine, 
the corps commander, General Botsch, 
and some of his staff had escaped across 
the Rhine, while the bulk of those in the 
Seventh Army who got away were falling 
back behind the Moselle. To take the 
place of this corps, the Army Group G 
commander, General Hausser, called on 
the LXXXIX Corps under General der 
Infanterie Gustav Hoehne from the ex- 
treme left wing of the First Army. Leav- 
ing behind its assigned divisions to be 
absorbed by the neighboring corps, the 
headquarters of the LXXXIX Corps 
arrived at the Moselle on 9 March. 

To General Hoehne went the task of 
defending some twenty-five miles of the 
Moselle from Koblenz to a point up- 
stream from Cochem. As everywhere 
along the Moselle, the snakelike convolu- 
tions of the river added to the actual 
length of the front and created danger- 
ous re-entrants. To defend such a serpen- 
tine obstacle with any real hope of 
success would have required either 
enough troops on the north bank to stop 
the re-entrants or sufficient reserves to 
hit any crossing quickly. The LXXXIX 
Corps and the Seventh Army had nei- 
ther. 

As the LXXXIX Corps moved into 
position, General Hoehne assumed com- 



19 Unless otherwise noted, the German story is 
based on the following MSS: $ 8-338 (Hauser); 
# B-123 (Gersdorff); # B-831 (Felber); # B-600 
(Hausser); and # C-020 (Schramm). 



mand of Kampfgruppe Koblenz, a 1,800- 
man local defense force whose only fire 
support was from stationary antiaircraft 
guns, mostly east of the Rhine, and the 
2j6th Infantry Division, which had es- 
caped from the Eifel with the equivalent 
of two infantry, two engineer, and two 
light field artillery battalions. With- 
drawn from the First Army as a first step 
in providing a reserve for the Seventh 
Army, a third unit, the 159th Infantry 
Division, had to be used instead to aug- 
ment Hoehne's corps. A force of fairly 
presentable strength, the 159th took 
over the left wing. 19 

By further stretching the First Army 
defenses, the Army Group G commander 
had freed another unit, also scheduled 
originally for the Seventh Army reserve 
— the 6th SS Mountain Division, per- 
haps the most combat-worthy division 
remaining in Army Group G. Yet on 5 
March, in a belated reaction to the U.S. 
10th Armored Division's capture of 
Trier, OB WEST had ordered that di- 
vision to counterattack across the Ruwer 
River south of Trier to sever the Ameri- 
can armored division's line of communi- 
cations. Striking the U.S. 94th Division, 
the mountain division the next day had 
cut the main highway into Trier from 
the south. 20 

It was a Pyrrhic victory. In the attack 
and against the American counterattacks 
that followed, the flower of the 6th SS 
Mountain Division's manpower fell. 
Two days later, as OB WEST finally 
gave in to A rmy Group G's protestations, 
the remainder of the division began to 
Withdraw, but for lack of gasoline one 



10 MSS # B-377, Fighting of the LXXXIX Corps 
From 10 to 16 March (General der Infanterie 
Gustav Hoehne); # B-831 (Felber). 

20 94th Div AAR, Mar 45. 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



243 



regiment had to stay behind. Although 
General Hausser decided, reluctantly, to 
give the division to the LXXXIX Corps 
rather than hold it in reserve, only the 
reconnaissance battalion would reach the 
corps before the Moselle front erupted. 

Hausser had only one other hope for a 
reserve. For more than a week he had 
sought to withdraw the 559th Volks 
Grenadier Division from a salient ex- 
tending beyond the West Wall south of 
Saarbruecken; but since that would in- 
volve abandoning some West Wall posi- 
tions, authority had to come from Hitler 
himself. The permission finally arrived 
but, as events were to prove, too late. 
The first contingents of the division be- 
came available to assist the Seventh Army 
only on 15 March. 

On the left of the LXXXIX Corps, 
responsible for another twenty-five miles 
of steep, rocky, vine-clad river bank, 
stood General von Oriola's XIII Corps, 
consisting of remnants of three volks 
grenadier divisions and the 2d Panzer 
Division. None of the divisions could be 
classed as more than a Kampfgruppe and 
the panzer division, though somewhat 
stronger in numbers than the others, 
had only a few tanks. The rest of the 
Moselle front to the vicinity of Trier, 
thence southeast along the Ruwer River 
to a point of contact with the First Army 
three miles south of the Moselle, be- 
longed to General Beyer's LXXX Corps. 
Beyer commanded remnants of three 
volks grenadier divisions. 21 



2l MSS # B-052, XIII Corps, 18 February-21 
March 1945 (Generalleutnant Ralph von Oriola); 
# B-082, The Final Fighting of the LXXX Army 
Corps From the Mame to the Danube (General 
der Infanterie Franz Beyer), p. 3. 



Despite the withdrawals to aid the 
Seventh Army, Army Group G's other 
major component, the First Army under 
General der Infanterie Hermann 
Foertsch, remained the considerably 
stronger force. Having benefited by 
transfer of a number of the Nineteenth 
Army's, divisions following withdrawal 
from the Colmar pocket, the First Army 
had seen little major fighting in recent 
weeks except that in the Saar-Moselle 
triangle and the limited objective at- 
tacks in Alsace launched by the Ameri- 
can Seventh Army in February. Yet the 
weakest point of the First Army front 
was at the same time the most threat- 
ened, and the necessity of giving up di- 
visions to the Seventh Army meant that 
General Foertsch could do little about it. 

The point in question was the bridge- 
head beyond the Saar River and the 
West Wall south of Trier established by 
the U.S. XX Corps. There stood the 
LXXXII Corps under General Hahm, 
part of which earlier had been driven 
from the Saar-Moselle triangle. Until 10 
March, the corps still had only three di- 
visions, two of which had been roughly 
treated in the triangle. The third, the 
2d Mountain Division, was also seriously 
understrength following its futile, piece- 
meal counterattacks against the bridge- 
head over the Saar. On 10 March com- 
mand of the remnants of another divi- 
sion passed from the Seventh Army's 
LXXX Corps to the LXXXII Corps, but 
with it came responsibility for defending 
an additional three miles of front close 
to Trier. With this addition, General 
Hahm's line ran from a point east of 
Trier southeast to the other American 
bridgehead over the Saar at Saarlautern. 
Somewhat less than one-half of this line 



244 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



benefited from West Wall fortifica- 
tions. 22 

Containing the Saarlautern bridgehead 
was one of the responsibilities of the 
LXXXV Corps, commanded by General 
der Infanterie Baptist Kniess. The corps 
had three divisions, all nearly at full 
strength; but one, the 559th Volks Grena- 
dier, was destined for transfer to the 
Seventh Army. 2 * Unlike the commander 
of the adjoining LXXXII Corps and 
those defending the Moselle, General 
Kniess was confident his troops could 
hold against frontal attack, for the West 
Wall in his sector was in considerable 
depth. It was concern about American 
breakthrough from the rear that plagued 
both Kniess and the commanders of two 
other corps that extended the First Army 
line southeast to the Rhine. Although 
these two corps, the XIII SS and the XC, 
would no doubt be driven back from 
their advanced positions in Alsace, they 
would gain strength by retiring into the 
West Wall. 

When the new Commander in Chief 
West, Field Marshal Kesselring, paid his 
first visit to First and Seventh Army 
headquarters on 13 March, the army 
group commander, General Hausser, and 
the two army commanders used the oc- 
casion to emphasize how sterile and po- 
tentially disastrous they considered the 
policy of all-out defense west of the 
Rhine. It could only result, they insisted, 
in wholesale losses, perhaps annihilation. 
The latter, General Felber of the Seventh 
Army pointed out, seemed highly likely, 
because the U.S. 4th Armored Division 
was apparently concentrating along the 

"MS # B-066 (Ingelheim). 

28 MS # B-121, LXXXV Corps, 25 January-23 
March 1945, Operations in the Saar (General der 
Infanterie Baptist Kniess). 



lower Moselle near Cochem for a quick 
thrust that could cut the entire army 
group off from the Rhine. 

Yet Kesselring, true to his charge from 
his Fuehrer — whether he believed in it 
or not — refused to sanction either with- 
drawal or a deliberate delaying action. 
"The positions," Kesselring said, "have 
to be held." 24 

Through the Hiinsrueck 

General Patton's plan of attack was 
admirably designed to capitalize on Ger- 
man weaknesses. Striking first, Walker's 
XX Corps might attract any available 
reserve, whereupon Eddy's XII Corps 
was to jump the Moselle at one of the 
defenders' weakest points, the sector of 
Hoehne's LXXXIX Corps. Quick con- 
vergence of the two drives well might 
trap the other two corps of the Seventh 
Army, and a logical extension of Eddy's 
thrust southward alongside the Rhine 
could, as the German General Felber 
feared, trap all of Army Group G. 

For the opening attack, General 
Walker had an outsize corps of four in- 
fantry divisions, two cavalry groups, and 
an armored division. One cavalry group, 
the 3d, started the fighting during the 
afternoon of 12 March with a diversion- 
ary attack in a loop of the Moselle near 
the confluence of the Moselle and the 
Ruwer. After nightfall, as a drizzling rain 
showed signs of diminishing, troops of 
three infantry divisions moved toward 
lines of departure along the periphery 
of the Saar bridgehead south of Trier. 
At 0245 on *3 March an impressive total 
of thirty-one divisional and corps field 

24 Quotation is from MS # B-600 (Paul Haus- 
ser). See also MSS # B-123 (Gersdorff); # B-831 
(Felber); # B-238 (Wolf Hauser). 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



245 



artillery battalions opened fire. Fifteen 
minutes later, the infantry moved 
through the darkness to the attack. 

The 94th Division (General Malony) 
on the left headed east toward the cross- 
roads town of Hermeskeil, ten miles 
beyond the Ruwer; the 80th Division 
(General McBride) in the center drove 
southeast toward Weiskirchen and Lo- 
sheim, approximately seven miles away. 
Capture of these objectives would put 
the XX Corps through the most densely 
wooded portions of the Hunsrueck and 
open the way for armor. The 26th Divi- 
sion (General Paul) meanwhile attacked 
almost due south in a narrow zone close 
to the Saar to roll up the West Wall. 
After daylight, a regiment of the 65th 
Division (Maj. Gen. Stanley E. Rein- 
hart) , new to combat, staged a diver- 
sionary, limited objective attack in the 
Saarlautern bridgehead. 25 

Nowhere was the going easy. The ter- 
rain — high, fir-covered hills, deep draws 
and ravines, and a secondary roadnet al- 
ready churned into mud by German ve- 
hicles — was enough in itself to see to 
that; but the German regiments, seri- 
ously depleted in numbers, could take 
advantage of the difficult ground only at 
isolated points rather than along a con- 
tinuous line. In the darkness, the at- 
tacking battalions stumbled onto some 
enemy positions, ran into minefields, and 
drew heavy small arms and mortar fire, 
but more often than not, a sideslipping 
to left or right brought quick relief and 
continued advance. The action was more 
an infiltration than an attack, with re- 
serve companies and reserve battalions 



m For assignments, see XX Corps FO 18, 10 Mar 
45. Unless otherwise noted, this account is based 
on official records of the XX Corps and its divi- 
sions. 



taking out the strongpoints after daylight 
came. 

By early evening of 1 3 March, the 94th 
and 80th Divisions both had firm holds 
on the first ridgeline beyond the original 
bridgehead, as much as two miles from 
the jump-off points, and bridges were in 
place across both the Ruwer and a feeder 
stream that cut the 80th Division's zone. 26 
Unlike the other two units, the 26th Di- 
vision in the pillbox belt near the Saar 
came in for frequent local counterat- 
tacks, but that division also advanced as 
much as two miles. 

The next day, 14 March, the drive 
slowed down. The Germans, wherever 
encountered, fought back defiantly, giv- 
ing no indication of general withdrawal. 
This was particularly true among the pill- 
boxes faced by the 26th Division, where 
a combination of concrete-reinforced re- 
sistance and rough terrain brought ad- 
vances that had to be measured in yards 
rather than miles. A counterattack by 
the regiment of the 6th SS Mountain 
Division that had been left behind by 
its parent division for want of gasoline 
slowed the advance of the 80th Divi- 
sion. 27 When the weather cleared in the 
afternoon, planes of the XIX Tactical 
Air Command got into the fray in 
strength, but because it was hard to pin- 
point advance positions in the thick fir 



28 Part of the success achieved by the 80th Divi- 
sion's 318th Infantry was directly attributable to 
the actions of one officer, 2d Lt. Harry J. Michael. 
He singlehandedly captured two machine guns and 
their crews, then led his platoon in a charge that 
carried an artillery position and seized three guns. 
A few hours later he individually captured 13 
Germans, wounded 4, and killed 2, then again led 
a successful charge against German pillboxes. The 
next morning a shot from ambush cut Lieutenant 
Michael down. He was awarded the Medal of 
Honor posthumously. 

27 MS # B-066 (Ingelheim). 



246 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



forests, the strikes had to be confined to 
targets well in front of the infantry. 

Visiting all three division command 
posts during the day, the Third Army 
commander was disturbed at the slow 
pace. General Patch's Seventh Army, 
General Patton knew, was to begin its 
offensive the next morning. Patton was 
concerned lest Patch beat him to the 
Rhine. 28 

Patton need not have worried. On the 
third day, 15 March, no general German 
collapse developed, but the signs were 
there. The 94th Division's go2d Infantry 
plunged forward four miles and reached 
a point less than three miles from the 
division objective of Hermeskeil. A bat- 
tallion of the 80th Division's 318th In- 
fantry fought its way into Weiskirchen, 
one of that division's objectives, there 
encountering a veritable hornet's nest of 
opposition. The battalion nonetheless 
achieved a sizable gain and was on the 
edge of more open country. Another 
battalion made an even deeper thrust 
farther south. Although the 26th Divi- 
sion had the usual hard time with pill- 
boxes, the 26th's attack was a subsidiary 
operation that nobody looked on as the 
bellwether of the drive. 

To the XX Corps commander, Gen- 
eral Walker, the time for exploitation 
seemed at hand. Although air reconnais- 
sance found no evidence of wholesale 
German withdrawal, this report merely 
reinforced Walker's determination to 
commit his armor. A swift strike by tanks 
might trap the Germans before they had 
a chance to escape. 

Just after midnight Walker told the 
10th Armored Division, already on one- 
hour alert, to jump off before daylight 



Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 259. 



on the 16th to pass through the 94th and 
80th Divisions. The goal was the Nahe 
River, some twenty-five miles away. 

Across the Lower Moselle 

Playing a large part in Walker's de- 
cision was the situation in the zone of 
General Eddy's XII Corps on the lower 
Moselle. There, before dawn on 14 
March, two infantry divisions had set out 
to cross the river. 

The terrain along the lower Moselle 
is forbidding at the river line itself — 
precipitous, forested slopes rising to a 
thousand feet, with egress from the river 
bottom by steep twisting roads — but only 
a mile or two from the river most of the 
roads emerge onto open, relatively flat- 
surfaced ridgelines broad enough for mil- 
itary maneuver. Thus the XII Corps 
commander, General Eddy, anticipated 
that once his infantry had reached the 
crest of the ridgelines, armor could 
quickly take over and drive the remain- 
ing thirty miles to the Nahe River. Al- 
though he ordered his infantry divisions 
to attack toward the Nahe as soon as they 
had established bridgeheads over the 
Moselle, he alerted the 4th Armored 
Division for rapid commitment and 
urged corps engineers to begin building 
bridges capable of handling tanks even 
as the infantrymen were crossing the 
river in assault boats. 29 

Concealed by darkness and a heavy fog, 
two regiments of the 90th Division (Gen- 
eral Earnest) and one of the 5th (Gen- 
eral Irwin) began to cross the Moselle 
at 0200, 14 March, behind a 30-minute 
artillery preparation. A second regiment 

29 See XII Corps FO 16, 11 Mar 45. Unless other- 
wise noted, the tactical story is from official records 
of the corps and divisions. 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



247 



of the 5th Division — arrival of its assault 
boats delayed by traffic-jammed roads — 
crossed two hours later. Only an occa- 
sional inaccurate burst of fire from rest- 
less German machine gunners interfered 
with any of the crossings. 

On the far bank, the infantrymen 
found resistance centered almost exclu- 
sively in the towns and villages. In Treis, 
riverside nexus of several good roads 
leading southeast and six miles down- 
stream from Cochem, contingents of the 
enemy's 159th Division held a battalion 
of the 5th Division's 2d Infantry at bay 
until after nightfall when opening of a 
treadway bridge across the Moselle en- 
abled tanks to help mop up. It took a 
battalion of the 90th Division's 357th 
Infantry until noon to clear other troops 
of the 159th Division from the town of 
Brodenbach, while in another town just 
over a mile downstream the 6th SS 
Mountain Division's reconnaissance bat- 
talion held out until midafternoon. 

In the meantime, the other battalions 
of both the 5th and 90th Divisions had 
been occupying the high ground between 
and behind the villages. By nightfall 
some units had pushed more than two 
miles beyond the river; casualties in the 
two divisions together totaled less than 
a hundred. At first concealed by fog, then 
by smoke, and hampered only by a swift 
current and sporadic, ineffective German 
shelling, engineers soon after nightfall 
opened treadway bridges to serve both 
divisions. 

The comparative ease of the crossing 
early prompted the 5th Division com- 
mander, General Irwin, to alert a regi- 
ment for a fast motorized advance the 
next morning, 15 March, aimed at the 
corps objective along the Nahe River. 
The corps commander, General Eddy, 



was similarly impressed. When Irwin 
asked for trucks to transport his infantry, 
Eddy cautioned that he intended to com- 
mit the 4th Armored Division (General 
Gaffey) early the next day. To Irwin's 
protest that his infantry could reach the 
objective while the armored division was 
sorting itself out after crossing the river, 
Eddy insisted that the exploitation was 
a job for armor. 30 

To the German LXXXIX Corps com- 
mander, General Hoehne, it was equally 
apparent that the American bridgehead 
was firmly established and soon would 
explode. While he knew that the main 
body of the 6th SS Mountain Division 
probably would arrive the next day, he 
also recognized that the division was too 
depleted from the futile counterattack 
south of Trier and the loss of a regiment 
to General Hahm's LXXX11 Corps even 
to postpone the inevitable. As the divi- 
sion began to arrive piecemeal early on 
the 15th, Hoehne committed it against 
the left flank of the U.S. 90th Division, 
hoping thereby at least to hold open an 
escape route eastward to the Rhine. 31 

General Hoehne's preoccupation with 
the American left flank became manifest 
on 15 March in the pattern of American 
advance. On the left, in the relatively 
narrow triangle of land between the 
Moselle and the Rhine, the 90th Divi- 
sion's 357th Infantry absorbed two sharp 
counterattacks, one supported by two 
tanks, another launched by newly arrived 
troops of the 6th SS Mountain Divi- 
sion. At the forest-cloaked village of Pfaf- 
fenheck, midway between the Moselle 
and the Rhine, a hundred SS troopers 



30 The 5th Division telephone journals are a 
valuable source for this period. 

31 MS # B-377 (Hoehne). See also MSS # B-123 
(Gersdorff); # B-831 (Felber). 



248 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



supported by a lone tank fought furi- 
ously and successfully against the 357th 
Infantry's 2d Battalion to hold a road 
leading to the Rhine. Although a pla- 
toon of Company E forced its way into 
the village in early morning, the Ger- 
mans cut off and captured the riflemen 
before reinforcements could arrive. 

Attacking down parallel roads to the 
southeast, the 90th Division's other two 
regiments expanded the bridgehead line 
six miles beyond the Moselle before the 
4th Armored Division's Combat Com- 
mand A passed through in the afternoon. 
The armor almost immediately ran into 
stubborn resistance built around four 
antitank guns and extended the line only 
a little more than an additional mile 
before coiling for the night. 

On the right wing of the XII Corps, 
where the enemy corps commander soon 
lost all communications with his 159th 
Division and presumed the unit doomed, 
similar resistance failed to develop. 32 
The advance was spectacular. Passing 
through troops of the 5th Division at 
noon, the 4th Armored's Combat Com- 
mand B quickly picked up momentum. 
Roadblocks at the entrance of each town, 
usually defended by no more than a 
cluster of riflemen and machine gunners, 
were about all that stood in the way. 
White sheets fluttered from upper-story 
windows, a now familiar sign that Ger- 
man civilians had divined the approach- 
ing end. Enjoying a bright, sunlit day, 
fighter-bombers of the XIX Tactical Air 
Command worked in close co-ordination 
with the armor and before night fell had 
flown 643 sorties to claim a new record 
for five groups in one day. 83 In just over 
five hours, CCB moved sixteen miles be- 



yond the Moselle, more than half the 
distance to the Nahe River. The tankers 
stopped for the night in Simmern, only 
a few miles from the Soonwald, the last 
big terrain obstacle short of the Nahe. 

Convinced beyond doubt that CCB's 
deep thrust presaged a quick end to 
organized resistance, General Eddy at- 
tached motorized regimental combat 
teams from the 90th and 5th Divisions 
to CCA and CCB, respectively. In order 
to broaden the front and prevent other 
German units from turning against the 
penetration, he ordered the 89th Divi- 
sion (Maj. Gen. Thomas D. Finley) , ex- 
periencing its first combat, to cross the 
Moselle beside the 5th Division early 
the next morning, 15 March. Shifted by 
General Patton from the VIII Corps, the 
11th Armored Division was to follow 
on the 17th. 34 

With General Hoehne's LXXXIX 
Corps split by Combat Command B's 
thrust, the Seventh Army commander, 
General Felber, made the usual cry for 
help to his Army Group G superior, 
General Hausser. Noting that the first 
contingents (two infantry battalions) of 
the 559th Volks Grenadier Division had 
arrived in the army's sector during the 
afternoon, Hausser promised to do what 
he could to speed the rest of the divi- 
sion. He also ordered the First Army to 
release another volks grenadier division, 
but in view of the canopy of Amer- 
ican fighter planes that spanned the 
Saar-Palatinate during daylight, neither 
division probably would be able to ar- 
rive in time to help. 

For his own part, General Felber or- 
dered General Hoehne to conduct a 
fighting withdrawal using those forces of 



32 MS # B-377 (Hoehne). 

83 XII Corps Opnl Dir 88, 16 Mar 45. 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



249 



the LXXXIX Corps that were east of the 
American penetration. If compelled, 
Hoehne was to fall back across the Rhine. 
What was left of the 159th Division was 
to be attached to the XIII Corps (Gen- 
eral von Oriola) and was to assume a 
bridgehead defense north of the Nahe 
River. The bridgehead was to be used as 
a reception station for the XIII Corps 
once approval for the corps to withdraw 
could be wrung from higher command. 35 
The German commanders had every 
reason to ask for withdrawal; two corps 
of the Seventh Army, the XIII and 
LXXX Corps, both still holding along 
the Moselle, were in danger of encircle- 
ment. The 4th Armored Division break- 
through was but one aspect of that 
danger. The German commanders also 
had to cast wary glances over their left 
shoulders at the attack of the U.S. XX 
Corps. 

Plunge to the Nahe and Fall of Koblenz 

In General Walker's XX Corps, com- 
bat commands of the 10th Armored Di- 
vision (General Morris) began passing 
through infantry of the 80th and 94th 
Divisions before daylight on 16 March. 
Although the Germans of General 
Hahm's LXXXII Corps during the night 
had formed a new crust of resistance 
sufficient to deny genuine armored ex- 
ploitation for another twenty-four hours, 
no doubt remained among either Ameri- 
can or German commanders as the day 
ended that a deep armored thrust was in 
the offing. 

When it came, the exploitation would 
possess added power as a result of a visit 
the Supreme Commander paid the Third 



Army commander in late morning of the 
16th. Patton asked General Eisenhower 
for another armored division, the 12th, 
then in Seventh Army reserve, and Eisen- 
hower agreed. Like General Eddy's XII 
Corps, Walker's XX Corps was to have 
six divisions. 36 

In the XII Corps, meanwhile, the ex- 
ploitation involved no delay. Renewing 
the drive from Simmern, the 4th Ar- 
mored's CCB took the obstacle of the 
Soonwald in stride and plunged almost 
unimpeded another fourteen miles. The 
head of the column reached the Nahe 
River at noon near Bad Muenster, two 
miles upstream from the corps objective 
of Bad Kreuznach, seized a railroad 
bridge intact, and quickly established a 
bridgehead. 

Fighter-bombers of the XIX Tactical 
Air Command again were out in force, 
bombing and strafing anything German 
that moved on the roads. Ironically, it 
was the fighter-bombers that saved the 
German Seventh Army commander, Gen- 
eral Felber, and his chief of staff, Gen- 
eral von Gersdorff, from capture. In the 
process of moving their command post, 
the two officers had to take to the woods 
to escape strafing American planes. Min- 
utes later tanks of the 4th Armored Divi- 
sion passed nearby, unaware of the prey 
the planes had forced into hiding. For 
an hour Felber and Gersdorff had to 
hide in the woods before they were able 
to escape over a back road. 

It was but a short-lived respite for the 
two German officers. Even as they re- 
joined the rest of the Seventh Army staff 
in Gensingen, midway between Bad 
Kreuznach and the Rhine, the 4th Ar- 
mored's other attacking combat com- 



"MSS # B-831 (Felber); # B-123 (Gersdorff). 



Patton, War As I Knew It, pp. 259-62. 



250 

mand was fast bearing down on them. 
Having run into stanch resistance near 
the north edge of the Soonwald from the 
6th SS Mountain Division's reconnais- 
sance battalion, Combat Command A 
again had found the going slower than 
had CCB; but once air and artillery sup- 
port had helped overcome the opposi- 
tion, CCA too began to roll. The head 
of CCA's column reached the Nahe op- 
posite Gensingen before dark. Although 
all bridges over the river had been de- 
molished, fire from the tankers' guns 
forced the Seventh Army staff again to 
flee. 37 

At the Moselle River, German miseries 
were compounded on 16 March in two 
places. Upstream from Cochem and the 
5 th Division crossing sites, General Fin- 
ley's 89th Division before daylight sent 
two regiments across the river in assault 
boats against a modicum of resistance. 
As with the earlier crossings, fighting 
was restricted almost entirely to the river- 
side villages, and there the weak task 
forces of General von Oriola's XIII 
Corps could hope to hold only briefly. 
By the end of the day, the inexperienced 
89th Division held a substantial bridge- 
head and was ready to receive the tanks 
of the 11th Armored Division. 

German troubles also increased down- 
stream near the confluence of the Moselle 
with the Rhine. There General Middle- 
ton, his VIII Corps reduced to but one 
division and cavalry group, sent his lone 
division, the 87th, across the Moselle to 
capture the city of Koblenz. 38 

The 87th Division commander, Gen- 
eral Culin, planned to do the job with 
two regiments. The 347th Infantry was 
to cross the river before daylight on 16 

* MSS # B-831 (Felber); # B-123 (Gersdorff). 
38 VIII Corps FO 15, 14 Mar 45. 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 

March about five miles upstream from 
Koblenz. Through a narrow clearing in 
the high woodlands that feature most of 
the narrow triangle between the Moselle 
and the Rhine, the regiment was to drive 
southeast about seven miles to the Rhine, 
thus cutting off the defenders of Koblenz 
from any possible aid from the south. A 
second regiment, crossing the Moselle 
opposite Koblenz itself, was to reduce 
the city. 

Aware from intelligence reports that 
the enemy's LXXXIX Corps had few 
troops for defending the little triangle 
other than weak contingents of the 2j6th 
Volks Grenadier Division and local Ko- 
blenz defense forces, General Culin an- 
ticipitated no major fight. The utter ease 
of the 347th Infantry's crossing nonethe- 
less came as a surprise. Not a shot, not a 
round of shellfire, indeed, not a sign of 
the enemy met the two assault battalions. 
Dawn was fast approaching when the first 
opposition developed, a scattering of 
small arms fire in a village several hun- 
dred yards from the river. 

The first really troublesome resistance 
came in the afternoon at Waldesch, mid- 
way between the Moselle and the Rhine. 
There recently arrived contingents of 
the 6th SS Mountain Division effectively 
blocked a little corridor of cleared land 
leading to the Rhine. 

Noting the ease of the 347th Infantry's 
crossing, General Culin saw no need to 
repeat the process opposite Koblenz. In- 
stead, he ordered a second regiment to 
cross in the 347th's sector, then swing 
northeast against the city. By the end of 
the day, 16 March, two battalions were 
in the southern fringes of the city and 
had cleared a new Moselle crossing site 
for the rest of the regiment. 

To the German Seventh Army com- 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



251 




Engineers of the 87TH Division ferry a tank across the Moselle. 



mander, General Felber, advent of the 
new American force removed any ration- 
alization that might have existed for the 
LXXXIX Corps to attempt to hold 
longer west of the Rhine. At noon on the 
16th he told the corps commander, Gen- 
eral Hoehne, to begin his withdrawal, 
though in Koblenz itself Kampfgruppe 
Koblenz was to fight to the last. As night 
came, a heavy fog favored the evacua- 
tion. Some 1,700 men, all that remained 
of Hoehne's LXXXIX Corps, made it to 
the east bank. 39 

""MSS # B-377 (Hoehne); # B-123 (Gersdorff); 
# B-831 (Felber). See also MS # B-124, 2j6th 



Aided by deadly airbursts from high- 
velocity antiaircraft guns firing from be- 
yond the Rhine, the 1,800-man Kampf- 
gruppe Koblenz put up a stout defense 
the next day, 17 March, even though 
the outcome of the fight was inevitable. 
The last resistance was destined to fade 
early on 19 March with no more than 
half a hundred survivors escaping across 
the Rhine. 40 



Volks Grenadier Division (Col. Werner Wagner, 
Actg Comdr.) 

"MS # B-377 (Hoehne), 



252 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Seventh Army's Deliberate Attack 

All along the Moselle, from Koblenz 
to Trier, the German Seventh Army on 
17 March was in peril, if not from direct 
attack, then from the flanking thrust 
against the right wing of the First Army 
by General Walker's XX Corps. Collapse 
of the Seventh Army clearly was but a 
question of time. Soon the German First 
Army, too, would be in dire straits, for 
the American Seventh Army two days 
earlier, on 15 March, had launched a 
power drive against General Foertsch's 
army along a 70-mile front from the 
vicinity of Saarlautern southeastward to 
the Rhine. Even if that offensive failed 
to penetrate the West Wall, it might 
tie the First Army troops to the fortifi- 
cations while Patton's forces took them 
from the rear. 

The U.S. Seventh Army traced its 
origin back to Sicily where General Pat- 
ton had first led it into battle. An infan- 
tryman who had seen combat many 
months before on Guadalcanal, "Sandy" 
Patch, had assumed command for the 
invasion of southern France and a swift 
advance northward. Patch's chief of staff 
was an artilleryman, Maj. Gen. Arthur 
A. White, who had held a similar post 
under Patch on Guadalcanal. 

The Seventh Army numbered among 
its ranks several relatively inexperienced 
units but retained a flavoring of long- 
term veterans. The VI Corps (Maj. Gen. 
Edward H. Brooks) , for example, and 
three divisions — the 3d, 36th, and 45th — 
had fought at length in the Mediter- 
ranean theater, including the Anzio 
beachhead. The XV Corps (Maj. Gen. 
Wade H. Haislip) had joined the Sev- 
enth Army after fighting across France 
with the Third Army. A third corps, the 



XXI (Maj. Gen. Frank W. Milburn) , 
was relatively new, having joined the 
army in January. 

As the Seventh Army offensive began, 
the basic question was how stubbornly 
the Germans would defend before falling 
back on the West Wall. Only General 
Milburn's XXI Corps, on the Seventh 
Army left wing near Saarbruecken, was 
fairly close to the West Wall, while other 
units were as much as twenty miles away. 
Making the army's main effort in the 
center, General Haislip's XV Corps faced 
what looked like a particularly trouble- 
some obstacle in the town of Bitche. Sur- 
rounded by fortresses of the French 
Maginot Line, Bitche had been taken 
from the Germans in December after a 
hard struggle, only to be relinquished in 
the withdrawal forced by the German 
counteroffensive. On the army's right 
wing General Brooks's VI Corps, farthest 
of all from the West Wall, had first to 
get across the Moder River, and one of 
Brooks's divisions faced the added diffi- 
culty of attacking astride the rugged 
Lower Vosges Mountains. 

Two German corps and part of a third 
were in the path of the impending Amer- 
ican drive. At Saarbruecken, the left 
wing of General Kniess's LXXXV Corps 
would receive a glancing blow from Mil- 
burn's XXI Corps. Having recently given 
up the 559th Volks Grenadier Division 
to the Seventh Army, Kniess had only 
two divisions, one of which was tied 
down holding West Wall positions 
northwest of Saarbruecken. Southeast of 
the town, with boundaries roughly co- 
terminous with those of Haislip's XV 
Corps, stood the XIII SS Corps (SS 
Gruppenfuehrer and Generalleutnant 
der Waffen-SS Max Simon) with three 
divisions. Extending the line to the 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



253 



Rhine was the XC Corps (General der 
Infanterie Erich Petersen) with two 
volks grenadier divisions and remnants 
of an infantry training division. 

Although the Germans worried most 
about a breakthrough in the sector of 
Petersen's XC Corps into the Wissem- 
bourg Gap rather than through Simon's 
XIII SS Corps into the Kaiserslautern 
corridor, the shifts and countershifts 
made in preceding weeks to salvage re- 
inforcements for the Seventh Army ac- 
tually had left the XIII SS Corps the 
stronger. In addition to two volks grena- 
dier divisions, Simon's corps had the ijth 
SS Panzer Grenadier Division, at this 
point not much more than a proud name, 
but a unit possessing considerably more 
tanks and other armored vehicles than 
were to be found in the entire adjacent 
corps. The American main effort thus 
aimed at the stronger German units, 
though at this stage of the war strength 
in regard to German divisions was but a 
relative term. 41 

As General Patch's Seventh Army at- 
tacked before daylight on 15 March, the 
apparent answer on German intentions 
was quick to come. Only in two places 
could the resistance be called deter- 
mined. One was on the left wing, where 
the 63d Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. 
Louis E. Hibbs) sought to bypass Saar- 
bruecken on the east and cut German 
escape routes from the city. The fact that 
the 63d Division early hit the West Wall 
provided ready explanation for the 



41 For the German story, see MSS # B-071, XC 
Infantry Corps December 1944-23 March 1945 
(General der Infanterie Erich Petersen); # B-711, 
Engagements of the XIII SS AK West of the Rhine 
(Waffen-SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Ekkehard Al- 
bert, CofS, XIII SS Corps); # B-121 (Kniess); # 
B-838 (Wolf Hauser); and # B-600 (Paul Haus- 
ser). 



stanch opposition there. The other was 
on the extreme right wing where an at- 
tached 3d Algerian Infantry Division (3c 
Division d'Infanterie d'Algerie) was to 
clear the expanse of flatland between 
Hagenau and the Rhine. There an urban 
area closely backing the Moder River de- 
fensive line and flat ground affording 
superb fields of fire for dug-in automatic 
weapons accounted in large measure for 
the more difficult fighting. 42 

Elsewhere local engagements some- 
times were vicious and costly but usually 
were short-lived. Antipersonnel and anti- 
tank mines abounded. German artillery 
fire seldom was more than moderate and 
in most cases could better be classified 
as light or sporadic. That was attribut- 
able in part to a campaign of interdiction 
for several days preceding the attack by 
planes of the XII Tactical Air Command 
(Brig. Gen. Glenn O. Barcus) and by 
D-day strikes by both the fighter-bombers 
and the mediums and heavies of the 
Eighth Air Force. The latter hit West 
Wall fortifications and industrial targets 
in cities such as Zweibruecken and Kai- 
serslautern. The weather was beautifully 
clear, enabling the aircraft to strike at a 
variety of targets, limited only by range 
and bomb-carrying capacity. Among the 
German casualties were the operations 
officers of two of the three XC Corps 
divisions 48 

Of the units of the outsized (six di- 
visions) XV Corps, only a regiment of 
the 45th Division (Maj. Gen. Robert T. 
Frederick) faced a water obstacle at the 
start. That regiment had to cross the 
Blies River at a site upstream from where 



42 Unless otherwise noted, the account of Seventh 
Army action is based on official records of Seventh 
Army and subordinate units. 

"MS # B-071 (Petersen). 



254 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



the Blies turns northeast to meander up 
the Kaiserslautern corridor. Yet even 
before dawn men of the regiment had 
penetrated the enemy's main line of de- 
fense beyond the river. Aided by search- 
lights, they bypassed strongpoints, leav- 
ing them for reserves to take out later. 
As night came the 45th Division had 
driven almost three miles beyond the 
Blies to match a rate of advance that was 
general everywhere except in the pillbox 
belt near Saarbruecken and on the flat- 
lands near the Rhine. 

On the right wing of the XV Corps, 
men of the 100th Infantry Division (Maj. 
Gen. Withers A. Burress) drove quickly 
to the outskirts of the fortress town of 
Bitche. Perhaps aided by the fact that 
they had done the same job before in 
December, they gained dominating posi- 
tions on the fortified hills around the 
town, leaving no doubt that they would 
clear the entire objective in short order 
the next day, 16 March. 

The only counterattack to cause ap- 
preciable concern hit a battalion of the 
3d Division's 7th Infantry. Veterans of 
combat from the North African cam- 
paign onward, the regiments of the 3d 
Division (Maj. Gen. John W. O'Daniel) 
were making the main effort in the cen- 
ter of the XV Corps in the direction of 
Zweibruecken and the Kaiserslautern 
corridor. Although a company of sup- 
porting tanks ran into a dense minefield, 
disabling four tanks and stopping the 
others, a battalion of the 7th Infantry 
fought its way into the village of 
Uttweiler, just across the German fron- 
tier. Then an infantry battalion from the 
ijth SS Panzer Grenadier Division, sup- 
ported by nine assault guns, struck back. 
The Germans quickly isolated the 
American infantrymen but could not 



force them from the village. Supported 
by a platoon of tank destroyers and the 
regimental antitank company organized 
as a bazooka brigade, another of the 7th 
Infantry's battalions counterattacked. 
The men knocked out four multiple- 
barrel 20-mm. flakwagons and seven as- 
sault guns and freed the besieged 
battalion. 

On the Seventh Army's right wing, 
pointed toward the Wissembourg Gap, 
divisions of General Brooks's VI Corps 
experienced, with the exception of the 
3d Algerian Division, much the same 
type of opposition. Although all four 
attacking divisions had to overcome the 
initial obstacle of a river, either the 
Moder or a tributary, they accomplished 
the job quickly with predawn assaults. 
The Germans were too thinly stretched 
to do more than man a series of strong- 
points. On the corps left wing, the 42d 
Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. Harry J. 
Collins) overcame the added obstacle of 
attacking along the spine of the Lower 
Vosges by avoiding the roads and villages 
in the valleys and following the crests of 
the high ground. Pack mules, already 
proved in earlier fighting in the High 
Vosges, provided the means of supply. 

As with the 3d Division, a battalion 
of the 103d Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. 
Anthony C. McAuliffe) ran into a 
counterattack, but the reaction it 
prompted was more precautionary than 
forced. Having entered Uttenhofen, 
northwest of Hagenau, the battalion en- 
countered such intense small arms fire 
and shelling from self-propelled guns 
that the regimental commander author- 
ized withdrawal. When German infantry 
soon after nightfall counterattacked with 
support from four self-propelled pieces, 
the battalion pulled back another few 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



255 




Troops of the 63D Division cross dragon's teeth of the West Wall. 



hundred yards to better positions on the 
edge of a copse. 

In the sector of the 36th Infantry Di- 
vision (Maj. Gen. John E. Dahlquist) , 
the day's fighting produced a heroic per- 
formance by a rifleman of the 143d 
Infantry, Pfc. Silvestre S. Herrera. After 
making a one-man charge that carried a 
German strongpoint and bagged eight 
prisoners, Herrera and his platoon were 
pinned down by fire from a second posi- 
tion protected by a minefield. Disregard- 
ing the mines, Herrera also charged this 
position but stepped on a mine and lost 
both feet. Even that failed to check him. 



He brought the enemy under such ac- 
curate rifle fire that others of his platoon 
were able to bypass the minefield and 
take the Germans in flank. 44 

The 3d Algerian Division meanwhile 
got across the Moder with little enough 
trouble but then encountered intense 
house-to-house fighting. Despite good ar- 
tillery support made possible by the un- 
limited visibility of a clear day, grazing 
fire from automatic weapons prevented 
the Algerians from crossing a stretch of 
open ground facing the buildings of a 

44 Private Herrera was awarded the Medal of 
Honor. 



256 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



former French Army frontier post. A 
welter of mines and two counterattacks, 
the latter repulsed in both cases by ar- 
tillery fire, added to the problems. As 
night fell, no Algerian unit had advanced 
more than a mile. 

On the second day, 16 March, indica- 
tions that the Germans were fighting no 
more than a delaying action increased 
everywhere except, again, on the two 
flanks. It seemed particularly apparent 
in the zone of the XV Corps, where all 
three attacking divisions improved on 
their first day's gains. Mines, demolitions, 
and strongpoints usually protected by a 
tank or an assault gun were the main 
obstacles. By nightfall both the 3d and 
45th Divisions were well across the Ger- 
man frontier, scarcely more than a 
stone's throw from the outposts of the 
West Wall, and the 100th Division, re- 
lieved at Bitche by a follow-up infantry 
division, had begun to come abreast. 
Fighter-bombers of the XII Tactical Air 
Command again were out in force. 

Even though the Germans appeared 
to be falling back by design, in reality 
they intended a deliberate defense. Al- 
though corps commanders had begged 
to be allowed to withdraw into the West 
Wall even before the American offensive 
began, General Foertsch at First Army 
and General Hausser at Army Group G 
had been impelled to deny the entreaties. 
The new Commander in Chief West, 
Field Marshal Kesselring, remained as 
faithful as his predecessor to the Hitler- 
imposed maxim of no withdrawal any- 
where unless forced. 45 

As events developed, no formal order 
to pull back into the fortifications ever 
emerged above corps level. Beginning the 



See, in particular, MS # B-711 (Albert). 



night of 16 March, commanders facing 
the U.S. XV Corps simply did the obvi- 
ous, ordering their units to seek refuge 
in the West Wall whenever American 
pressure grew so great that withdrawal 
or annihilation became the only alter- 
natives. The next day commanders fac- 
ing the U.S. VI Corps adopted the same 
procedure. 

It became at that point as much a mat- 
ter of logistics as of actual fighting before 
all divisions of the Seventh Army would 
be battling to break the concrete barrier 
into the Saar-Palatinate; but as more 
than one German commander noted with 
genuine concern, whether any real fight 
would develop for the West Wall was 
not necessarily his to determine. That 
responsibility fell to those units, deci- 
mated and increasingly demoralized, 
which were opposing the onrush of 
American Third Army troops from west 
and northwest into the German rear. 

Breakthrough 

Along the Nahe River units of the 
Seventh Army's hard-pressed LXXXIX 
Corps got a measure of respite on 17 
March as General Gaffey's front-running 
4th Armored Division paused to regroup. 
Having established a bridgehead over the 
Nahe late on 16 March, Gaffey wanted 
time to service his tanks and to enable 
his reserve combat command and the 
infantry divisions of the XII Corps to 
come up. The ensuing delay in Ameri- 
can attacks aided the LXXXIX Corps in 
its withdrawal, authorized the day be- 
fore, to the east bank of the Rhine. 46 

Elsewhere in the German Seventh 
Army and on the right wing of the First 

46 Msg, CG 4th Armored Div to CG 5th Inf Div, 
161820 Mar 45, 5th Div G-3 Jnl file, 16 Mar 45. 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



257 



Army, there was no respite. As the re- 
cently transferred 12 th Armored Di- 
vision moved to reinforce General 
Walker's XX Corps early on 17 March, 
the 10th Armored Division drove eight 
miles and seized a bridge intact over the 
little Prims River, last water obstacle 
short of the Nahe. Bringing searchlights 
forward to provide illumination, the 
armor prepared to continue the drive 
through the night toward the Nahe it- 
self at St. Wendel, eleven miles away. On 
the right wing of the XII Corps, the 89th 
Division expanded its Moselle bridge- 
head while the 1 ith Armored Division 
moved in behind the infantry as prelude 
to another thrust toward the Nahe at 
Kirn, twenty miles beyond the Moselle. 47 
Before daylight on the 17th, the 
Seventh Army commander, General Fel- 
ber, sent two divisions of the XIII Corps 
to counterattack what appeared to be the 
most pressing of the converging Ameri- 
can threats, the breakthrough of the 4th 
Armored Division. The effort proved 
futile. One division lacked sufficient 
transport even to assemble in time to 
counterattack, and the other, the 2d Pan- 
zer Division (reduced to 4 tanks, 3 assault 
guns, about 200 panzer grenadiers, and 2 
artillery battalions) , found its route 



"As an extension of an assignment to sweep the 
north bank of the Moselle downstream from Trier, 
the 76th Division the night of the 18th launched a 
limited objective attack across the Moselle along- 
side the 89th Division. In this attack, made by the 
304th Infantry without active German opposition, 
a medical aidman, Pvt. William D. McGee, entered 
an antipersonnel minefield to rescue two men 
wounded by exploding mines. He carried one to 
safety but in returning for the other, he himself 
set off a mine and was seriously wounded. Refusing 
to allow others to risk their lives by coming to his 
rescue, he died of his wounds. Private McGee was 
awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. 



blocked by antitank barriers prematurely 
closed by panicky German villagers. 48 

Both Felber and the Army Group G 
commander, General Hausser, had for 
several days been pleading with OB 
WEST for authority to withdraw the 
entire Seventh Army behind the Rhine. 
All requests drew the usual negative re- 
ply. With the collapse of Felber's two- 
division counterattack, it became obvious 
to those on the scene that in a few days, 
if not in hours, both the XIII Corps and 
the LXXX Corps would be encircled. 

That was the prospect when on 17 
March Field Marshal Kesselring issued 
an ambiguous order. While directing 
"the retention of present positions," the 
new Commander in Chief West added a 
qualification. "An encirclement and with 
it the annihilation of the main body of 
the troops," the order stated, "is to be 
avoided." Hausser seized on this as suf- 
ficient authority to pull back at least 
behind the Nahe. 49 

In the meantime, the swift Third 
Army advances had stirred higher com- 
manders on the American side. Im- 
pressed by Patton's gains, the Supreme 
Commander on 17 March met at Lune- 
ville, in Lorraine, with the 6th Army 
Group commander, General Devers, and 
the two Army commanders concerned, 
Patton and Patch. Noting the Third 
Army's gains and the obstacle of the 
West Wall still opposing the Seventh 
Army, General Eisenhower asked Patch 
if he objected to Patton's attacking across 
the northern portion of the Seventh 
Army's zone perpendicular to the Sev- 
enth Army's axis of attack. General 
Patch said no; the objective was to de- 

' g MS # B-058 (Oriola). 

"Quotation is from MS# B-600 (Paul Haus- 
ser). See also MS # B-183 (Gersdorff). 



258 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



stroy the German forces. "We are all," 
he added, "in the same army." 50 

As worked out in detail by Patch and 
Patton, the two armies split the area be- 
tween the Nahe River and the Rhine 
almost equally, with a new boundary 
running just north of Kaiserslautern and 
reaching the Rhine south of Worms. Pat- 
ton nevertheless intended to take Kaiser- 
slautern himself and then turn one 
infantry and one armored division south- 
east, deeper into Patch's zone, to link 
with the Seventh Army's VI Corps along 
the Rhine. Thereby he hoped to trap 
any Germans who might remain in front 
of the Seventh Army in the West Wall. 
That accomplished, Patton "would clear 
out of [Patch's] area." 51 The plan pre- 
sumed, of course, that the Seventh Army 
at that point would still be involved in 
the West Wall, but in any event, Patch 
apparently accepted the agreement with 
the same good grace earlier accorded the 
Supreme Commander's proposal. 

To General Patton's subordinates, the 
authority gained at Luneville meant 
pressure and more pressure. Why, Patton 
railed to his XII Corps commander, Gen- 
eral Eddy, had the nth Armored Di- 
vision failed to push through the 89th 
Division's Moselle bridgehead on the 
17th? Nor was there any excuse for the 
4th Armored Division to pause for any 
time at all at the Nahe River. "The heat 
is on," General Eddy told his own sub- 
ordinates, "like I never saw before." 52 

It took another day before the effects 



50 Seventh Army Report, p. 720. See also General 
Devers's personal diary, lent to OCMH (hereafter 
cited as Devers Diary); Patton, War As I Knew It, 
pp. 262 and 265. 

61 Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 265. 

53 Msg, XIII Corps to 5th Div, and Telecon, CG 
XII Corps to CG 5th Div, both in 5th Div G-3 
Jnl, 17 Mar 45; Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 264. 



generated by the heat began to show up 
on headquarters situation maps, but by 
19 March a graphic representation of the 
Third Army's gains looked, in the words 
of Patton's colleague, General Hodges of 
the First Army, "like an intestinal 
tract." 53 With the added weight of the 
12th Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Rod- 
erick R. Allen), General Walker's XX 
Corps made the more spectacular gains. 
By midnight of the 19th, the 12 th 
Armored was across the upper reaches 
of the Nahe and had gone on to jump a 
little tributary of the Nahe, more than 
twenty-three miles from the armor's line 
of departure of the day before. The 10th 
Armored Division stood no more than 
six miles from Kaiserslautern. Two of 
the infantry divisions of the XX Corps, 
their regiments motorized on organic 
transport supplemented by trucks from 
supporting units, mopped up behind the 
armor, while the 26th Division com- 
pleted its onerous task of rolling up West 
Wall fortifications, then turned eastward 
in a drive that converged with a north- 
eastward thrust from Saarlautern by the 
65th Division. 5 * 

In the XII Corps, the 4th Armored 
Division on 18 and 19 March failed to 
regain its earlier momentum, partly be- 
cause the division had to divert forces to 
clear Bad Kreuznach and partly because 
the Germans with their backs not far 
from the Rhine stiffened. In the two 



63 Sylvan Diary, entry of g Mar. 45. 

"During the 65th Division's attack on 18 March, 
an aidman in the 259th Infantry, Pfc. Frederick C. 
Murphy, continued to minister to his comarades 
although wounded in one shoulder. Even after 
setting off a mine that severed one of his feet, he 
crawled about to help other wounded around him 
until at last he set off a second mine that killed 
him. He was awarded the Medal of Honor post- 
humously. 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



259 



days, the 4th Armored advanced just over 
ten miles beyond the Nahe. 

It remained for the newly committed 
1 ith Armored Division on the XII Corps 
right wing to register the more spectacu- 
lar gains. Following its disappointing 
showing in the Eifel, the 11th Armored 
had a new commander, Brig. Gen. 
Holmes E. Dager. Under Dager's com- 
mand, the division on 18 March raced 
twenty miles to the Nahe River at Kirn. 
The next day the armor streaked another 
nineteen miles to the southeast, reaching 
a point as far east as Kaiserslautern. 55 

When combined with the drive of the 
12th Armored Division on the north 
wing of the XX Corps, the 1 1 th 
Armored's rapid thrusts tied a noose 
around what remained of the enemy's 
XIII and LXXX Corps. As the efforts of 
those two corps to withdraw across the 
Nahe and form a new defensive line went 
for naught, the infantry divisions follow- 
ing the American armor mopped up the 
remnants of the 2d Panzer Division and 
three volks grenadier divisions. Little 
more than the headquarters of the two 
corps escaped. 

From all indications, the Germans in 
the Seventh Army and on the right wing 
of the First Army (Hahm's LXXXII 
Corps) were destined for annihilation. 
As American armored spearheads ap- 
peared without warning, seemingly over 
every hill and around every curve, and 



55 When a rocket from a Panzerfaust hit a tank 
of the 41st Tank Battalion, wounding the platoon 
sergeant and prompting others of the crew to 
abandon the vehicle, the bow gunner, Pfc. Herbert 
H. Burr, stayed inside and drove the tank into the 
town of Doermoschel. Rounding a turn, he en- 
countered an enemy 88. Alone, unable to fire while 
driving, Burr headed directly toward the muzzle of 
the 88, forcing the crew to flee and overrunning 
the piece. He was awarded the Medal of Honor. 



as American planes wreaked havoc from 
the air, hardly any semblance of organi- 
zation remained in German ranks. It was 
less withdrawal than it was sauve qui 
pent. Camouflage, antiaircraft security, 
dispersal — those were fancy terms from 
some other war, without meaning in this 
maelstrom of flight. Highways were lit- 
tered with wrecked and burning vehicles 
and the corpses of men and animals. 
Roadblocks at defiles and on the edges 
of towns and villages might halt the in- 
exorable onflow of tanks and half-tracks 
temporarily, but the pauses were brief 
and in the long run meaningless. Impro- 
vised white flags flying from almost every 
house and building along the way added 
a final note of dejection to the scene. 

Yet German commanders, still denied 
the authority they begged to withdraw 
behind the Rhine, continued to build up 
new lines and to shift units here and 
there — mainly on paper. As night came 
on the 19th, the Seventh Army's General 
Felber might point to a new line running 
southwest from Mainz in front of the 
cities of Alzey and Kaiserslautern, but 
Felber himself would have been among 
the first to admit that it was less a line 
than a proliferation of improvisations. 56 

To the most optimistic German, the 
end was near. Events on 20 March un- 
derscored the fact. In late afternoon con- 
tingents of the 90th Division, on the left 
wing of the XII Corps, arrived on high 
ground overlooking Mainz and the 
Rhine. A short while later troops of the 
4th Armored Division fought their way 
into Worms and began to clear a path 
through the city to the Rhine. Both the 
10th and 12th Armored Divisions of the 
XX Corps still had to emerge from the 

M See MS # B-082 (Beyer) and other manu- 
scripts previously cited for this chapter. 



260 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



wooded hills of the Pfaelzer Bergland 
onto the Rhine plain, but they would be 
on the plain by nightfall of the 20th. 

Tacit admission from the Germans 
that the campaign for the Saar-Palatinate 
was almost over came late in the day 
with long-delayed approval for the Sev- 
enth Army withdrawal. That night on 
ferries, rafts, small boats, almost anything 
that floated, General Felber, his head- 
quarters, and headquarters of Oriola's 
XIII Corps began to make their way 
across the Rhine. General Beyer's LXXX 
Corps stayed behind, taking over all com- 
bat troops and being transferred to the 
First Army in an effort to forestall fur- 
ther American advances directly into the 
rear of the First Army. 67 

Thrust to the Rhine 

As the breakthrough of General 
Walker's XX Corps developed in the di- 
rection of Kaiserslautern, concern had 
mounted in the First Army lest those 
units in the West Wall around Saar- 
bruecken and Zweibruecken be trapped. 
Once Kaiserslautern fell, the only routes 
of withdrawal left to those troops led 
through the Haardt Mountains south of 
Kaiserslautern. Covered by a dense wood, 
the Pfaelzer Forest, the region was 
crossed laterally by only one main high- 
way, by a secondary highway close be- 
hind the West Wall, and by a few minor 
roads and trails. The natural difficulties 
posed by these twisting, poorly surfaced 
routes already had been heightened by a 
mass of wrecked vehicles as American 
fighter pilots relentlessly preyed on hap- 
less targets. 

Using the authority granted by Kessel- 

m MSS # B-831 (Felber); # B-123 (Gersdorff); 
# B-600 (Paul Hausser). 



ring on 17 March to pull back units 
threatened with encirclement, the First 
Army's General Foertsch authorized 
withdrawal by stages of his westernmost 
troops, those of General Kniess's 
LXXXV Corps. Over a period of three 
days, units of the corps were to peel back 
from west to east, redeploying to block 
the main highway leading northeast 
through the Kaiserslautern Gap. 

Unfortunately for Foertsch's plan, the 
principal threat to the Kaiserslautern 
Gap came not from west or southwest 
but from northwest where Walker's XX 
Corps was pouring unchecked through 
General Hahm's LXXXII Corps. The 
10th Armored Division's arrival at 
Kaiserslautern itself on 20 March meant 
not only that the gap was compromised 
by a force well in the rear of Kniess's 
formations but also that the only way out 
for both Kniess's troops and those of the 
adjacent XIII SS Corps was through the 
Pfaelzer Forest. 

As Kniess's withdrawal progressed, it 
had the effect of opening a path through 
the West Wall for the left wing of the 
American Seventh Army. Despite a 
stubborn rear guard, the 63d Division 
of General Milburn's XXI Corps broke 
through the main belt of fortifications 
near St. Ingbert late on 19 March. Had 
events moved according to plan, Milburn 
then would have sent an armored column 
northward to link with Walker's XX 
Corps near St. Wend el; but so swift had 
been the advance of Walker's troops that 
all worthwhile objectives in Milburn's 
sector beyond the West Wall already had 
fallen. Milburn and his XXI Corps had 
achieved a penetration but had no place 
to go. 

The Seventh Army commander, Gen- 
eral Patch, seized on the situation to pro- 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



261 



vide a boost for his army's main effort, 
the attack of the XV Corps through 
Zweibruecken toward the Kaiserslautern 
Gap. In two days of hammering at Gen- 
eral Simon's XIII SS Corps, the divisions 
of the XV Corps still had opened no hole 
through the West Wall for armored ex- 
ploitation. 58 Send a combat command, 
Patch directed the XV Corps com- 
mander, General Haislip, to move 
through the 63d Division's gap and come 
in on the rear of the West Wall defenders 
facing the XV Corps. 

That the Americans would exploit the 
withdrawal was too obvious to escape 
the First Army commander, General 
Foertsch. During the night of the 19th, 
he extended the authority to withdraw 
to the west wing of the X/// SS Corps. 
Thus, hardly had the American combat 
command begun to move early on 20 
March to exploit the 63d Division's pen- 
etration when the 45th Division of the 
XV Corps also advanced past the last 
pillboxes of the West Wall near Zwei- 
bruecken. During the night of the 20th, 
the rest of the SS corps also began to pull 
back, and the momentum of the 3d 



58 For no lack of effort, as exemplified by heroic 
actions of two members of the 45th Division. On 
18 March when eight men of the 180th Infantry 
were wounded while attacking a troublesome pill- 
box, the company commander, Capt. Jack L. 
Treadwell, went forward alone. Armed with a 
submachine gun and hand grenades, he charged 
the pillbox, captured 4 Germans in it, and went 
on to reduce singlehandedly five other pillboxes 
and to capture 14 more prisoners. In three days, 
culminating on the 18th, Cpl. Edward G. Wilkin, 
157th Infantry, did much the same for his com- 
pany. He too reduced six pillboxes singlehandedly, 
killed at least 9 Germans, wounded 13, and took 
13 prisoner. Captain Treadwell received the Medal 
of Honor. Corporal Wilkin was awarded the Medal 
of Honor posthumously; he was killed in a subse- 
quent action before his special act of valor could 
be officially recognized. 



Division's advance picked up accord- 
ingly. 59 

The German problem was to get the 
survivors of both the LXXXV Corps and 
the XIII SS Corps through the Pfaelzer 
Forest despite three dire threats: one 
from the closely following troops of the 
American Seventh Army; another from 
the 10th Armored Division of Walker's 
XX Corps, which at Kaiserslautern was 
in a position to swing south and south- 
east through the Pfaelzer Forest and cut 
the escape routes; and a third from the 
Argus-eyed fighter bombers of the XII 
Tactical Air Command. 

It was the last that was most apparent 
to the rank and file of the retreating 
Germans. Since speed was imperative, the 
men had to move by day as well as by 
night, virtually inviting attack from the 
air. Since almost everybody, including 
the troops of the motorized lyth SS Pan- 
zer Grenadier Division, had to use either 
the main east-west highway through the 
forest or the secondary road close behind 
the West Wall, American fighter pilots 
had only to aim their bombs, their can- 
non, and their machine guns in the gen- 
eral direction of those roads to be assured 
of hitting some target. An acute gasoline 
shortage added to the German difficul- 
ties. Almost every foot of the two roads 
soon became clogged with abandoned, 
damaged, or wrecked vehicles, guns, and 
equipment. 80 

The destruction in the Pfaelzer Forest 
was in keeping with the pattern almost 
everywhere. So long a target of both ar- 
tillery and aircraft, the drab towns and 
cities in and close to the West Wall were 



w For the German story, see MS # B-238 (Wolf 
Hauser). 

"°MSS # B-507 (Petersen); # B-238 (Wolf 
Hauser). 



262 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



a shambles. "It is difficult to describe 
the destruction," wrote the 45th Di- 
vision commander, General Frederick. 
"Scarcely a man-made thing exists in our 
wake; it is even difficult to find buildings 
suitable for CP's: this is the scorched 
earth." 81 In Zweibruecken, with the en- 
tire business district razed, only about 
5,000 people of a normal population of 
37,000 remained, and they were hiding 
in cellars and caves. Fires burned un- 
controlled, neither water nor fire-fighting 
equipment available to quench them. No 
local government existed. Thousands of 
released slave laborers and German sol- 
diers who had changed into civilian 
clothes complicated the issue for military 
government officials. In more than one 
city, particularly Homburg, looting and 
pillage were rampant. 

Running the gantlet of American 
fighter aircraft through the Pfaelzer 
Forest, the amorphous mass of retreating 
Germans faced still a fourth American 
threat — General Brooks's VI Corps, 
which had followed closely the German 
withdrawal from northeastern Alsace and 
on 19 March had begun to assault the 
West Wall on either side of Wissem- 
bourg. There General Petersen's XC 
Corps was charged with holding the for- 
tifications and denying access to the flat- 
lands along the Rhine. 

In the Seventh Army's original plan, 
the attached 3d Algerian Division on the 
right wing of the VI Corps along the 
Rhine was to have been pinched out 
after it reached the Lauter River at the 
German frontier. The planners had not 
reckoned with the aspirations of the 
French and their First Army commander, 
General de Lattre. Assured of support 



61 Seventh Army Report, p. 738. 



from the provisional head of the French 
state, General Charles de Gaulle, de 
Lattre was determined to acquire a zone 
along the Rhine north of the Lauter in 
order to assure a Rhine crossing site for 
the final drive into Germany. 62 

As the Algerians matched and some- 
times exceeded the strides of the Ameri- 
can units of the VI Corps and reached 
the Lauter along a ten-mile front, de 
Lattre had no difficulty pressing his ambi- 
tion on the 6th Army Group commander, 
General Devers. Using the 3d Algerian 
Division and a combat group from the 
5th French Armored Division, again to 
be attached to the VI Corps, the French 
were to continue northward some twelve 
miles beyond the Lauter River, thereby 
gaining limited Rhine River frontage 
inside Germany. 03 

The adjustment meant that the West 
Wall assault by the four American di- 
visions of the VI Corps was to be con- 
centrated in a zone less than twenty miles 
wide. Since the German XC Corps had 
only the remnants of two volks grenadier 
divisions and an infantry training di- 
vision to defend against both Americans 
and French, a breakthrough of the forti- 
fications was but a matter of time. Yet 
just as had been the case in the zones of 
the XXI Corps and the XV Corps, it was 
less the hard fighting of the VI Corps 
that would determine when the West 
Wall would be pierced than it was the 



oa De Lattre discussed the matter with de Gaulle 
in Paris shortly before the Seventh Army's offen- 
sive began. See Marshal Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, 
Histoire de la Premiere Armee Franfaise (Paris: 
Librarie Plon, 1949), pp. 407-14. 

as Ibid.; Devers Diary, entry of 18 Mar 45; Ltr, 
CG 6th AGp to CG's SUSA and First French Army, 
sub: Creation of Groupement Monsabert and Mod- 
ification of Letter of Instructions Number 11, 
SUSA Oral Instructions file, ig Mar 45. 



THE SAAR-PALATINATE 



263 



rampaging thrusts of the Third Army's 
XX Corps in the German rear. 

The divisions of the VI Corps had 
been probing the pillbox belt less than 
twenty-four hours when General Walker, 
leaving the task of gaining the Rhine to 
the 12th Armored Division and of ac- 
tually capturing Kaiserslautern to an 
infantry unit, turned the 10th Armored 
Division south and southeast into the 
Pfaelzer Forest. By nightfall of 20 March, 
two of the 10th Armored's columns stood 
only a few hundred yards from the main 
highway through the forest, one almost at 
the city of Pirmasens on the western 
edge, the other not far from the eastern 
edge. A third was nearing Neustadt, far- 
ther north beyond the fringe of the 
forest. The 12th Armored meanwhile 
was approaching the Rhine near Lud- 
wigshafen. Not only were the withdrawal 
routes through the Pfaelzer Forest about 
to be compromised but a swift strike 
down the Rhine plain from Neustadt 
and Ludwigshafen against the last escape 
sites for crossing the Rhine appeared in 
the offing. 

In desperation the Luftwaffe during 
20 March sent approximately 300 planes 
of various types, including jet-propelled 
Messerschmitt 262's, to attack the Third 
Army's columns, but to little avail. Casu- 
alties on the American side were minor. 
Antiaircraft units, getting a rare oppor- 
tunity to do the job for which they were 
trained, shot down twenty-five German 
planes. Pilots of the XIX Tactical Air 
Command claimed another eight. 04 

In the face of the 10th Armored Di- 
vision's drive, the word to the western- 
most units of the XC Corps to begin 
falling back went out late on the 20th, 



"Figures are from TUSA AAR. 



and when the 42d Division, in the moun- 
tains on the left wing of the VI Corps, 
launched a full-scale assault against the 
West Wall late the next day, the attack 
struck a vacuum. Soon after dawn the 
next morning, 22 March, a regiment of 
the 42d cut the secondary highway 
through the Pfaelzer Forest. A column of 
the 10th Armored had moved astride the 
main highway through the woods and 
emerged on the Rhine flatlands at Lan- 
dau. Any Germans who got out of the 
forest would have to do so by threading 
a way off the roads individually or in 
small groups. 

By nightfall of 22 March the Germans 
west of the Rhine could measure the 
time left to them in hours. In the West 
Wall on either side of Wissembourg, 
Germans of Petersen's XC Corps con- 
tinued to fight in the pillboxes in a man- 
ner that belied the futility of their 
mission. A breakthrough by the 14th 
Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Albert C. 
Smith) would nevertheless come soon. 
Both at Neustadt and at Landau, rem- 
nants of two divisions of the X/// SS 
Corps, including the ijth Panzer Grena- 
dier Division, had held through the day, 
but early in the evening the defense 
collapsed. General Beyer's LXXX Corps, 
transferred from the Seventh Army to 
plug the hole from the north alongside 
the Rhine, had hardly anything left to 
prevent the 12th Armored Division from 
driving southward from Ludwigshafen 
toward Speyer. By nightfall of the 2 2d, a 
column of the 12 th Armored stood only 
six miles from Speyer. 

To forestall a second Remagen, the 
Germans by 19 March had blown all 
Rhine bridges from Ludwigshafen north- 
ward. Of three that remained upstream, 
the southernmost, at Maximiliansau, was 



264 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



destroyed on 2 1 March when a round of 
American artillery fire struck a deto- 
nator, setting off prepared demolitions. 65 
A second, at Speyer, was too immediately 
threatened and too far removed from 
the main body of German troops to be 
of much use to any but the defenders 
of Speyer itself. It would be blown late 
on the 23 d. 68 

Over the remaining bridge, at Germer- 
sheim, roughly east of Landau, as many 
vehicles and field pieces as could be 
salvaged began to pass during the night 
of the 2 2d. Still no orders for final with- 
drawal beyond the Rhine came from the 
Commander in Chief West. Headquar- 
ters of both the First Army and Army 
Group G still were west of the river. 67 

Some German officers were beginning 
to wonder if every last increment of the 
First Army was to be sacrificed when at 
last, on 23 March, authority came to cross 
the Rhine. 88 While the bridge at Germer- 
sheim continued to serve artillery and 
vehicles, foot troops began to evacuate 
the west bank at three ferry sites south of 
the town. A smattering of infantrymen, 
an occasional tank or assault gun, and a 
regiment of antiaircraft guns operating 
against ground targets formed rear guard 
perimeters west of the ferry sites. 

Although all divisions of the U.S. VI 
Corps achieved clear breakthroughs dur- 
ing 23 March, they came in contact only 
with rear guards and failed to affect the 
German evacuation materially. Because a 
German force in Speyer fought doggedly, 
contact between the 12th and 14th 



"sMSS # B-507 (Petersen); # B-711 (Albert). 

" lath Armored Div AAR, Mar 45. 

"See MSS # B-507 (Petersen); # B-238 (Wolf 
Hauser); # B-600 (Paul Hausser); # B-082 
(Beyer). 

"MS # B-238 (Hauser). 



Armored Divisions was delayed. Both, 
armored divisions early on 24 March sent 
task forces in quest of the lone remain- 
ing Rhine bridge, the one at Germer- 
sheim, but neither had reached the 
fringes of the town when at 1020 the 
Germans blew up the prize. 69 Formal 
German evacuation of the west bank 
ended during the night of the 24th, while 
American units continued to mop up 
rear guards and stragglers through the 

25 th - 

It is impossible to ascertain how many 
Germans escaped from the Saar-Palatin- 
ate to fight again on the Rhine's east 
bank, or how much equipment and 
materiel they managed to take with 
them. Yet German losses clearly were 
severe. "Tremendous losses in both men 
and materiel," noted the chief of staff of 
the First Army. 70 The staff of the Ameri- 
can Seventh Army estimated that the 
two German armies had lost 75 to 80 
percent of their infantry in the Saar- 
Palatinate fight. The Seventh Army and 
its attached French units captured 22,000 
Germans during the campaign, and the 
Third Army imprisoned more than 
68,ooo. 71 The Third Army estimated that 
the German units opposing its advance 
lost approximately 1 1 3,000 men, includ- 
ing prisoners, while the Third Army 
casualties totaled 5,220, including 681 
killed. The Seventh Army, much of its 
fighting centered in the West Wall, prob- 
ably incurred about 12,000 casualties, in- 
cluding almost a thousand killed. 72 

For all the inevitability of German 

86 VI Corps AAR, Mar 45. 

70 MS # B-238 (Wol£ Hauser). 

"The Third Army's figure is from 18 through 
22 March only. See TUSA AAR, p. 315. 

"Seventh U.S. Army casualties are an estimate 
based on detailed figures found for the VI Corps 
only. 



THE SAAR- PALATINATE 



265 



defeat, the Saar-Palatinate campaign had 
provided a remarkable example of of- 
fensive maneuver, particularly by the 
Third Army. It was also a striking dem- 
onstration of co-operation and co- 
ordination among units and their 
commanders at various levels, including 
air commands. There had been moments 
of confusion — -in the XII Corps, for ex- 
ample, ambitious 5th Division units got 
astride the routes of attack of the 4th 
Armored Division, and on 21 March a 
column of the Seventh Army's 6th Ar- 
mored Division got entangled with the 
Third Army's 26th Division — but in 
view of the number of units and the 
speed and extent of the maneuver, those 
moments were few. This was despite the 
fact that four of the American corps con- 
tained an unwieldy six divisions, which, 
in the words of the XII Corps com- 
mander, General Eddy, was "like driv- 
ing six horses abreast while standing 
astraddle on the center pair." 73 

In view of the success of the campaign, 



Dyer, XII Corps p. 344. 



criticism of it would be difficult to sus- 
tain. Yet it was a fact nonetheless that 
the German First Army — and to some ex- 
tent the Seventh Army — for all the losses, 
conducted a skillful delaying action to 
the end in the face of overwhelming 
strength on the ground and in the air 
and never succumbed to wholesale en- 
circlement, despite a higher command 
reluctant to sanction any withdrawal. In 
the process the Germans had withstood 
the clear threat of a rapid drive by some 
unit of the Third Army or the Seventh 
Army along the west bank of the Rhine 
to trap the German First Army. 

Those contingents of both German 
armies that did escape would have to be 
met again on the east bank of the Rhine. 
To assure that the Germans would be at 
the utmost disadvantage in that meeting, 
the commander of the Third Army and, 
to a somewhat lesser extent, the com- 
mander of the Seventh Army had been 
thinking for several days in terms of 
quick crossings of the Rhine. 

And already Patton had done some- 
thing about it. 



CHAPTER XIII 

The Rhine Crossings in the South 



From the first, General Patton had 
hoped to exploit his Third Army's part 
in the Saar-Palatinate campaign into a 
crossing of the Rhine. He wanted a 
quick, spectacular crossing that would 
produce newspaper headlines in the man- 
ner of the First Army's seizure of the 
Remagen bridge. He wanted it for a 
variety of reasons, no doubt including 
the glory it would bring to American 
arms, to the Third Army, and possibly 
to himself, but most of all he wanted 
it in order to beat Field Marshal Mont- 
gomery across the river. Despite General 
Eisenhower's earlier indications to the 
contrary, Patton remained concerned 
lest the Supreme Commander put the 
First and Third Armies on the defensive 
while farming out ten American di- 
visions to the 21 Army Group. 1 

It was this concern, shared by Generals 
Bradley and Hodges, that hovered spec- 
terlike over the meeting of the three 
American commanders at Bradley's head- 
quarters in Luxembourg City on 19 
March. Having received Eisenhower's 
permission earlier in the day to increase 
the First Army's strength in the Remagen 
bridgehead and an alert to be ready to 
break out from 23 March onward, Gen- 
eral Bradley told Patton to do the very 
thing the Third Army commander 
wanted to do — take the Rhine on the 



1 Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 264. 



run. 2 Once the Third Army had jumped 
the river in the vicinity of Mainz, the 
First and Third Armies were to converge 
in the Lahn River valley, then continue 
close together to the northeast, generally 
up the Frankfurt-Kassel corridor. The 
object — in Patton's mind, at least — was 
to get such a major force committed in a 
far-reaching campaign that the 12 th 
Army Group rather than Montgomery's 
21 Army Group "could carry the ball." 3 
To avoid a second crossing operation 
at the Main River, which joins the Rhine 
at Mainz, the most logical Rhine crossing 
site for the Third Army was at some 
point downstream from Mainz. To Gen- 
eral Patton and his staff, determined re- 
sistance in the outskirts of Mainz seemed 
to indicate that the Germans appreciated 
this fact and would be watching for a 
crossing near the city. Why not, Patton 
reasoned, accept the handicap of a cross- 
ing of the Main in exchange for surprise 
at the Rhine? Patton told General Eddy 
of the XII Corps to make a feint near 
Mainz while actually crossing the Rhine 
ten miles upstream at Oppenheim. 4 
(Map X)\ 

As the troops of the XII Corps drew 

2 Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 5ig. 

3 Ibid. 

4 Dyer, XII Corps, p. 360; Patton, War As I Knew 
It, pp. 266-67. P atton later wrote that he consid- 
ered it a "great mistake" not to have made this 
first crossing downstream from Mainz in order to 
avoid an assault crossing of the Main. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



267 



up to the Rhine, General Eddy had in- 
tended to put the 5th Division in corps 
reserve. With that in mind, the division 
commander, General Irwin, called a con- 
ference of his unit commanders, but be- 
fore the meeting could begin early on 2 1 
March, Irwin himself received a sum- 
mons to appear at corps headquarters. 
When he returned, his manner and 
opening remarks alerted his commanders 
to startling news. Conqueror of twenty- 
two rivers in France, Belgium, and Ger- 
many, the 5th Division was to challenge 
the mightiest of them all — the Rhine. 5 

While the 90th Division made a feint 
behind a smoke screen at Mainz, General 
Irwin explained, the 5th Division was to 
launch a surprise night crossing at Op- 
penheim. Perhaps the most startling 
news of all was the timing. Although 
Irwin personally believed Patton would 
not order the crossing before the 23d, 
the division was to be prepared to go 
within a few hours that same night, 21 
March. 

The magnitude of the task of bringing 
assault boats, bridging, and other engi- 
neer equipment from depots far in the 
rear was argument enough for delaying 
the crossing at least until the 23d. Yet 
hardly had General Bradley on the 19th 
told Patton to cross when convoys started 
forward with this equipment from stocks 
carefully maintained in Lorraine since 
the preceding fall. Although another day 
would pass before tactical advances in 
the Saar-Palatinate opened direct routes 
for the convoys, the Third Army com- 
mander would listen to no voices cau- 
tioning delay. Each day, even each hour, 

B Irwin Diary, 20-21 Mar 45, as cited in Dyer, 
X// Corps, p. 364; Conf Notes, 5th Div G-3 Jnl 
file, 21 Mar 45; XII Corps AAR, Mar 45; XII Corps 
Opnl Dir 92, 21 Mar 45. 



gave the Germans additional time to 
recover from the debacle in the Saar- 
Palatinate and prepare a Rhine defense. 
Furthermore, Field Marshal Mont- 
gomery's Rhine crossing was scheduled 
to begin during the night of 23 March. 
If Patton was to beat Montgomery across, 
he had to move by the night of the 2 2d. 

When General Eddy in midmorning 
of 22 March told General Irwin that Pat- 
ton insisted on a crossing that night, 
Irwin protested that it would be impossi- 
ble to make a "well-planned and ordered 
crossing" by that time. On the other 
hand, Irwin added, he would be able "to 
get some sort of bridgehead." 6 Some sort 
of bridgehead was all General Patton was- 
after. 

During late morning of the 2 2d the 
commander of the 5th Division's 11th 
Infantry, Col. Paul J. Black, was at his 
3d Battalion's command post in the town 
of Nierstein, a mile downstream from 
Oppenheim, when word came from Gen- 
eral Irwin. The 11th Infantry was to 
cross the Rhine that night at 2200. 

Allotted about 500 boats manned by 
the 204th Engineer Battalion, the 11th 
Infantry was to employ two battalions 
in the assault wave, the 3d crossing at 
Nierstein, the 1st at Oppenheim. Al- 
though an impressive artillery group- 
ment of thirteen battalions stood ready 
to fire on call, they were to eschew pre- 
paratory concentrations in quest of sur- 
prise. Observation for the artillery was 
excellent: hills on the west bank of the 
Rhine overlook an expanse of generally 
flat ground stretching more than ten 
miles beyond the river. The ground is 
crisscrossed by small canals and drainage 



6 Quotations are from Irwin Diary, as cited in 
Dyer, XII Corps, p. 364. 



268 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



ditches. The width of the Rhine at this 
point ranges from 800 to 1,300 feet. 

Once the 11th Infantry and its sister 
regiments had secured a bridgehead, the 
4th Armored Division was to exploit to 
the northeast, bypassing Frankfurt-am- 
Main and gaining a bridgehead over the 
Main River east of Frankfurt at Hanau. 
From that point the XII Corps was to 
drive northward toward a juncture with 
the First Army in the Lahn River valley. 
The 6th Armored, 89th, and 90th Di- 
visions also were available. 7 

Despite the haste involved in the 
timing of the assault, a force of 7,500 
engineers made elaborate preparations 
for supporting the infantry and bridging 
the Rhine. Early assault waves were to 
transport bulldozers and air compressors 
so that work could begin immediately on 
cutting ramps for dukws and preparing 
bridge and ferry sites. Although first 
waves were to paddle across in assault 
boats, reinforcements were to cross in 
dukws and — as at Remagen — LCVP's 
manned by Naval Unit 2 of the U.S. 
Navy. With the aid of searchlights 
mounted on tanks, bridge building was 
to begin soon after the first infantrymen 
reached the far shore. 8 

As the troops prepared for the cross- 
ing, the Third Army commander enter- 
tained a suggestion from his chief of 
artillery, Brig. Gen. Edward T. Williams, 
to speed build-up of reinforcements by 
a novel method. Williams urged as- 
sembling approximately a hundred artil- 
lery liaison planes to carry one soldier 
each to landing fields on the east bank. 

» TUSA Opnl Dir, 22 Mar 45; XX Corps FO 17, 
22 Mar 45. 

8 Conf Notes, 5 th Div G— 3 Jnl file, 21 Mar 45; 
P. H. Timothy, The Rhine Crossing, student 
thesis prepared at the Engineer School, Fort Bel- 
voir, Va., 1946; AAR's of engineer units. 



With each plane making two flights each 
half hour, a battalion could be airlifted 
every two hours. Although the 5th Di- 
vision commander, General Irwin, pro- 
tested, fearing heavy losses from 
antiaircraft fire, General Patton went so 
far as to order a practice flight. Appear- 
ance of German planes over the crossing 
sites eventually would prompt cancel- 
lation, but Patton remained convinced 
the idea was "extremely good." 9 

Troops of the 1 1 th Infantry could dis- 
cern few indications that the Germans 
would seriously contest the assault. An 
occasional cluster of shells from artillery 
and mortars fell in the streets of Nier- 
stein and Oppenheim, reminder enough 
that an enemy with the power to kill 
still peopled the far bank, but neither 
American artillery observers nor aircraft 
pilots could find lucrative targets. 

Only two days had passed since Field 
Marshal Kesselring had given his bless- 
ing to withdrawal of the Seventh Army 
behind the Rhine, and German com- 
manders were as intent at the moment on 
re-establishing some semblance of organi- 
zation in their fleeing remnants as on 
actually manning a defensive line. 
Charged with holding more than fifty 
miles of the Rhine from Wiesbaden, op- 
posite Mainz, to Mannheim, the Seventh 
Army commander, General Felber, had 
only one regular corps headquarters, the 
XIII Corps (General von Oriola) , and 
headquarters of the local military dis- 
trict, Wehrkreis XII. Heretofore engaged 
solely in recruiting, training, and rear 
area defense, the Wehrkreis headquarters 
was summarily upgraded to become the 
XII Corps, though Felber had no di- 
visions to go with the advancement. In 

9 Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 267; XII Corps 
G-3 to 5th Div G— 3, 5th Div G— 3 Jnl, Mar 45. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



269 



the entire Seventh Army he possessed 
only four divisions still organized as 
such. 

Two of those divisions were little 
more than remnants grouped around 
their surviving staffs. A third, the 559th 
Volks Grenadier Division, still had about 
60 percent of its normal strength, since 
some battalions had arrived too late for 
active commitment in the counterattack 
role planned west of the Rhine. All three 
divisions were under the XIII Corps, the 
559th near Mannheim, the other two 
extending the line to the north. The 
fourth division, the 159th Volks Grena- 
dier, though severely depleted and dis- 
organized, Felber had earmarked as an 
army reserve. 

Thus the provisional XII Corps, 
charged with the Wiesbaden-Oppenheim 
sector, had no divisional unit, only rear 
echelon security detachments, hastily 
equipped students and cadres from near- 
by training schools, and convalescent 
companies. Neither headquarters of the 
XII Corps nor Felber himself knew 
much about the numerical strength of 
these conglomerate forces, but their 
fighting abilities clearly were limited. Al- 
though efforts were under way to rally 
the residue of other divisions, including 
the 2d Panzer, and organize them under 
division staffs as small task forces, it 
would be some days before those efforts 
produced results. 10 

While Felber and other German com- 
manders might hope the Americans 
would pause for a systematic build-up 
before jumping the Rhine, the experi- 

10 For the German story, see MSS # B-831 (Fel- 
ber); # A-893, The Final Phase of the War, (Gen- 
eralmajor Freiherr von Gersdorff); and # B-3ga, 
Historical Report on the Campaign "Central Ger- 
many" From 22 Until 31 March 1945 (General- 
leutnant Graf Ralph von Oriola). 



ence at Remagen and all previous deal- 
ings with General Patton indicated 
otherwise. An immediate attack held par- 
ticular concern for General Felber, since 
of three sites along the upper Rhine the 
Germans considered most suitable for 
crossing attempts, one was in the Seventh 
Army sector — at Oppenheim. Yet be- 
cause of the accidental site where fleeing 
troops had reassembled after crossing the 
Rhine, the bulk of the Seventh Army's 
formations, the three so-called divisions 
under the XIII Corps, were well south 
of Oppenheim. 

Despite a promise from the army 
group commander to bring up more 
trainees, convalescents, stragglers, any- 
body to swell the ranks, Felber knew that 
the only hope of thwarting an immediate 
crossing at Oppenheim lay with his own 
reserve, the 159th Volks Grenadier Di- 
vision. A visit to that command revealed 
only two weak infantry regiments of two 
battalions each and two light artillery 
batteries, plus a few odds and ends. 

To complicate matters further, Gen- 
eral Felber had lost all communication 
and contact with the First Army to the 
south, some of whose units still were 
fighting on the west bank. To the north 
contact existed with the LXXXIX Corps, 
which had withdrawn several days earlier 
behind the Rhine. On the theory that 
this corps, holding the sector opposite 
Koblenz, would be drawn into the fight- 
ing against American units breaking out 
of the Remagen bridgehead, OB WEST 
had transferred it to Army Group B. 

The chances of repelling a blow at 
Oppenheim, should it come right away, 
were pathetically meager. 

The moon shone with disturbing 
brightness as men of the 11th Infantry's 



270 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



3d Battalion crept down to the Rhine 
at Nierstein a few minutes before 2200 
the night of 22 March. Half an hour be- 
hind schedule, the leading assault boats 
carrying men of Company K pushed out 
into the stream. Not a sign of protest 
arose from the opposite shore. 

First to touch down on the east bank 
was an assault boat carrying a platoon 
leader, eight men, and Company K's 
commander, 1st Lt. Irven Jacobs. The 
rest of the company arrived safely mo- 
ments later. Seven surprised Germans 
promptly surrendered and obligingly 
paddled themselves across the river with- 
out escort. 11 

Leading the 1st Battalion's assault a 
few hundred years upstream at Oppen- 
heim, men of Companies A and B were 
less fortunate. The assault boats were in 
midstream when German machine gun- 
ners opened fire. The infantrymen and 
their engineer colleagues had no choice 
but to paddle straight into the teeth of 
the fire. Most of them made it, but a 
fierce skirmish went on for half an hour 
before the last German defender gave in. 
For all the noise and apparent ferocity 
Of the defense, the German gunners im- 
posed few losses on the attackers. In -the 
assault crossing of the Rhine, the entire 
11th Infantry incurred only twenty 
casualties. 

By midnight all troops of the 1 1 th 
Infantry were across and ready to drive 
on the first tier of villages beyond the 
river, and men of a second regiment had 
begun their trek to the assault boats. 
Only at that point did the first hostile 
artillery fire — a smattering of what might 



11 Unless otherwise noted, the tactical story is 
from official unit records, combat interviews, and 
the unofficial 5th Division history. Although few, 
the combat interviews are particularly valuable. 



have been expected — begin to fall. Some 
fifty rounds, for example, including oc- 
casional shells from self-propelled guns, 
fell before daylight on Oppenheim. 

Soon after dawn twelve German planes 
strafed and bombed the crossing sites, the 
first of a series of aerial raids, usually 
by only one or two planes, that were to 
persist throughout the day of 23 March. 
Damage was negligible. Two men in a 
battalion command post in Oppenheim 
were wounded and an ammunition truck 
was set ablaze, but otherwise the only 
casualty of the German strikes was Gen- 
eral Patton's scheme to transport infantry 
reinforcements across the river in artil- 
lery liaison planes. American pilots who 
flew cover most of the day claimed nine- 
teen German planes destroyed. 

Success of the assault crossing assured, 
American commanders concentrated on 
quick and heavy reinforcement and on 
putting as much distance as possible 
between the forward troops and the river. 
A deep bridgehead was important be- 
cause of a lack of dominating high 
ground on which to anchor defense of 
the bridgehead and because of the ab- 
sence of a reasonably good road network 
short of the town of Grossgerau, six and 
a half miles beyond the river. 12 

By daylight (23 March) the second 
of the 5th Division's regiments was 
across, and by early afternoon the third. 
A fourth regiment attached from the 
90th Division then followed. During the 
morning attached tanks and tank de- 
stroyers began to move across by ferry 
and LCVP. A class 40 treadway bridge 
opened in late afternoon. Engineers 
speeded traffic to the crossing sites by 
tearing down fences bordering the main 

13 Combat interview with Lt Col Randolph C. 
Dickens, 5th Div G-3. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



271 




highway and widening the road to ac- 
commodate three lanes of one-way traffic. 

The leading infantry battalions fanned 
out from the crossing sites against vary- 
ing degrees of resistance. Advancing 
northeast along the main road toward 
Grossgerau, the nth Infantry's ist Bat- 
talion was pinned down in flare-illumi- 
nated open fields short of the first village 
until platoon leaders and squad sergeants 
rallied the men and led them forward, 
employing intense marching fire. "Walk- 
ing death," the men called it. At the 
same time the 3d Battalion, attacking 
more directly north, raised scarcely a 



shot until it reached a small airstrip 
There almost a hundred Germans coun- 
terattacked with fury, but when the 
coming of daylight exposed their posi- 
tions to American riflemen and machine 
gunners, they began surrendering en 
masse. 

Seldom did the Germans employ weap- 
ons heavier than rifles, machine guns, 
machine pistols, and Panzerfausts, except 
for occasional mortars and one or two 
self-propelled guns. With those they 
staged demonstrations sometimes dis- 
turbingly noisy but seldom inflicting 
casualties. A battalion of the 10th In- 



272 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



fantry, for example, engaged in an almost 
continuous fire fight while advancing 
southeast from the crossing sites, took no 
casualties, and found it unnecessary to 
call for supporting artillery fire until 
after midday. 

The German units were a veritable 
hodgepodge: here an engineer replace- 
ment battalion, there a Landesschuetzen 
replacement battalion, elsewhere a 
Kampfgruppe of SS troops. 13 Most were 
youths or old men. Having once ex- 
hibited a furious spurt of resistance or 
delivered a reckless counterattack, they 
were quick to capitulate. The Volks- 
sturm among them often hid out in 
cellars, awaiting an opportunity to sur- 
render. 

By the end of the first full twenty-four 
hours of attack beyond the Rhine, the 
radius of the 5th Division's bridgehead 
measured more than five miles, and 
Grossgerau and its essential network of 
roads lay little more than a mile away. 
So obvious was the success of the surprise 
crossing that in late afternoon of 23 
March the corps commander, General 
Eddy, ordered the 4th Armored Division 
to start across early on the 24th, the first 
step toward exploitation. 

Anticipating quick commitment of 
American armor and with it loss of any 
hope, however faint, of annihilating the 
bridgehead, the Seventh Army'?, General 
Felber struggled through the day of the 
23d to mount a counterattack. Although 
Felber believed the Americans intended 
to drive east against Darmstadt rather 
than northeast toward Frankfurt, he 
chose to make his main effort against the 
northern shoulder of the bridgehead 
where he believed the Americans to be 

13 Unit identifications are from 5th Division G-2 
records. 



weakest. Also, a regimental-size unit 
formed from students of an officer candi- 
date school in Wiesbaden had become 
available for commitment there. Aug- 
mented by a few tanks and assault guns, 
this force was potentially stronger than 
the army reserve, the depleted 159th 
Volks Grenadier Division. 

Still disorganized from the flight across 
the Rhine and harassed all day by Ameri- 
can fighter-bombers, the volks grenadiers 
were far from ready to launch a pro- 
jected subsidiary thrust against the east- 
ern tip of the bridgehead when at 
midnight, 23 March, General Felber de- 
cided he could delay no longer. Not only 
did the thought of the pending advent of 
American armor disturb him, but Felber 
also had to endure the critical eyes of his 
superiors, the Commander in Chief, 
Field Marshal Kesselring, and the Army 
Group G commander, General Hausser, 
both of whom watched the preparations 
anxiously from the XII Corps command 
post in Grossgerau. The officer candi- 
dates, Felber directed, would have to go 
it alone. 

Only moments after midnight the stu- 
dent officers struck three villages along 
the northern and northeastern periphery 
of the bridgehead. Although the Ger- 
mans displayed a creditable elan, the 
presence of two battalions of American 
infantry in each village made the out- 
come in all three inevitable. Infiltrating 
Germans caused considerable confusion 
through the hours of darkness, particu- 
larly when they took three of the bat- 
talion command posts under fire; but 
the coming of day enabled 5th Division 
infantrymen to ferret them out quickly. 
Although other Germans outside the vil- 
lages remained close, fire from some of 
the seventeen artillery battalions that al- 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



273 



ready had moved into the bridgehead 
and from sharpshooting riflemen and 
machine gunners soon either dispersed 
the enemy or induced surrender. 

The r^gth Volks Grenadier Division 
apparently never got into the fight in 
strength. A subsidiary thrust against a 
village on the southeast edge of the 
bridgehead caused some concern when 
it struck moments after a battalion of the 
90th Division had relieved a battalion of 
the 10th Infantry, but nothing more de- 
veloped. A battalion of the 10th Infantry, 
moving up for a dawn attack, bumped 
into a German column moving down a 
road and may have been responsible. 
The Germans fled in disorder. 

Even before the defeat of the counter- 
attacks put a final seal on success of the 
Rhine crossing, the 12 th Army Group 
commander, General Bradley, released 
news of the feat to the press and radio. 
American forces, Bradley announced, 
were capable of crossing the Rhine at 
practically any point without aerial 
bombardment and without airborne 
troops. In fact, he went on, the Third 
Army had crossed the night of 22 March 
without even so much as an artillery 
preparation. 14 

Both the nature and the timing of 
Bradley's announcement were aimed at 
needling Field Marshal Montgomery, 
whose 2 1 Army Group was then crossing 
the Rhine after an extensive aerial and 
artillery bombardment and with the help 
of two airborne divisions. Although Gen- 
eral Patton had informed Bradley of his 
coup at the Rhine early on the 23d, he 
had asked him to keep the news secret; 
shortly before midnight he telephoned 
again, this time enjoining Bradley to re- 



14 Gay Diary, entry of 23 Mar 45. 



veal the event to the world. Thus the 
announcement came at a time calculated 
to take some of the luster from news of 
Montgomery's crossing. 

Some officers of the Third Army's staff 
drew added delight from the fact that the 
British Broadcasting Corporation the 
next day played without change a pre- 
recorded speech by Prime Minister 
Churchill, praising the British for the 
first assault crossing of the Rhine in mod- 
ern history. That distinction everybody 
knew by this time belonged not to the 
21 Army Group but to the Third 
Army. 15 

The VIII Corps in the Rhine Gorge- 

As if to furnish incontrovertible proof 
for General Bradley's boast that Ameri- 
can troops could cross the Rhine at will, 
the Third Army was readying two more 
assault crossings of the river even as 
Montgomery's 21 Army Group jumped 
the lower Rhine. Ordered on 2 1 March, 
shortly after Patton approved plans of 
the XII Corps for crossing at Oppen- 
heim, the new crossings actually reflected 
a concern for success of the Oppenheim 
maneuver and of the subsequent crossing 
of the Main River that was intrinsic in 
the original decision to go at Oppen- 
heim. 18 

Responsibility for both new Rhine 
crossings fell to General Middleton's 
VIII Corps, its boundaries adjusted and 
its forces augmented following capture 
of Koblenz. Before daylight on 25 March, 
the 87th Division was to cross near Bop- 



15 Gay Diary, entry of 24 Mar 45; Bradley, A 
Soldier's Story, pp. 521-22; Patton, War As I Knew 
It, p. 273. 

18 For date of the order, see Gay Diary, entry of 
21 Mar 45. 



274 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



pard, a few miles upstream from 
Koblenz. Slightly more than twenty-four 
hours later, in the early hours of 26 
March, the 89th Division — transferred 
from the XII Corps — was to cross near 
St. Goar, eight miles farther upstream. 17 

After establishing a firm hold on the 
east bank in the angle formed by con- 
fluence of the Lahn River with the 
Rhine, the 87th Division on the left was 
to be prepared to exploit to the east, 
northeast (toward juncture with First 
Army troops from the Remagen bridge- 
head) , or southeast (toward the rear of 
any enemy that might be defending the 
Main River) . The 89th Division was 
earmarked for driving in only one direc- 
tion, southeast. The two divisions were, 
in effect, to begin clearing a pocket that 
was expected to develop between the 
First Army and the XII Corps. 

Terrain, everybody recognized, posed 
a special challenge. The sector assigned 
to the VIII Corps, from Koblenz up- 
stream to Bingen, embraced the storied 
Rhine gorge. There the river has sheared 
a deep canyon between the Hunsrueck 
Mountains on the west and the Taunus 
on the east. Rising 300 to 400 feet, the 
sides of the canyon are clifflike, some- 
times with rock face exposed, other times 
with terraced vineyards clinging to the 
slopes. Between river and cliff there usu- 
ally is room only for a highway and 
railroad, though here and there industri- 
ous German hands through the years 
have foraged enough space to erect pic- 



17 Unless otherwise noted, the story of these 
crossings is from official unit records and combat 
interviews. The interviews for both divisions are 
sketchy. The unofficial history of the 87th Division 
is noted in Chapter V; for the 89th, see the 89th 
Infantry Division Historical Board, The 89th Divi- 
sion 1942-194; (Washington: Infantry Journal 
Press, 1947). 



turesque towns and villages. These usu- 
ally stand at the mouths of sinuous 
cross-valleys where narrow, twisting 
roads provide the only way out of the 
gorge for vehicles. 

So sharply constricted, the Rhine itself 
is swift and treacherous, its banks in 
many places revetted aginst erosion with 
stone walls fifteen feet high. Here, just 
upstream from St. Goar, stands the 
Lorelei, the big rock atop which sits the 
legendary siren who lures river pilots to 
their deaths on outcroppings below. 
Here in feudal times lived the river 
barons who exacted toll from shippers 
forced to pass beneath their castles on the 
heights. Here still stood the fabled castles 
on the Rhine. 

A more unlikely spot for an assault 
crossing no one could have chosen. This 
very fact, General Patton claimed later, 
aided the crossings. 18 Whether infantry- 
men who braved the tricky currents and 
the precipitous cliffs would agree is an- 
other matter. 

Certainly General Hoehne's LXXXIX 
Corps, defending the Rhine gorge, was 
relatively better prepared for its job 
than were those Germans on the low 
ground opposite Oppenheim; that prep- 
aration was attributable less to expected 
attack than to the simple fact that the 
LXXXIX Corps had had almost a week 
behind the Rhine. Hoehne's corps would 
have been considerably better prepared 
had not Field Marshal Kesselring or- 
dered transfer on the eve of the Ameri- 
can assault of the 6th SS Mountain 
Division, still a fairly creditable unit 
with the equivalent of two infantry regi- 
ments and two light artillery battalions. 
Kesselring sent the divisions to the south- 



Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 275. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



275 



east toward Wiesbaden, probably in re- 
action to the Oppenheim crossing, not 
from any sense of complacency about the 
Rhine gorge. 

Transfer of the SS mountain division 
left General Hoehne with what remained 
of the 2j6th Volks Grenadier Division 
(some 400 infantrymen and 10 light 
howitzers) , a few corps headquarters 
troops, a conglomerate collection of 
Volkssturm, two companies of police, 
and an antiaircraft brigade. The antiair- 
craft troops were armed mainly with 
multiple-barrel 20-mm. pieces, most of 
them lacking prime movers. 19 

On the 87th Division's left (north) 
wing, it would have been hard to con- 
vince anybody in the 347th Infantry that 
the Rhine gorge afforded advantages of 
any kind for an assault crossing. At one 
battalion's crossing site at Rhens, "all 
hell broke loose" from the German-held 
east bank at five minutes before mid- 
night, 24 March, six minutes before the 
first wave of assault boats was to have 
pushed into the stream. 20 Fire from ma- 
chine guns, mortars, 20-mm. antiaircraft 
guns, and some artillery punished the 
launching site. Almost an hour passed 
before the companies could reorganize 
sufficiently for a second try. Possibly be- 
cause few of the defenders had the 
stomach for a sustained fight, the second 
try at an assault proceeded with little 
reaction from the Germans. Once on the 



19 MS # B-584, Defensive Actions Fought by the 
LXXXIX Infantry Corps on the Rhine Front Be- 
tween 18 March 1945 and 29 March 1945 (General 
der Infanterie Gustav Hoehne). Hoehne's recollec- 
tion of dates should be reconciled with dates and 
events as established from American records. 

20 This and subsequent quotations are from com- 
bat interview with Maj H. J. Withors, ExecO 1st 
Bn, 347th Inf, et al. 



east bank, the men "let loose a little hell 
of their own." 

A few hundred yards downstream lead- 
ing companies of another battalion 
moved out on time, apparently unde- 
tected, but hardly had they touched 
down when German flares flooded the 
river with light. Men of the follow-up 
company drew heavy fire, and at both 
this site and the one at Rhens the swift 
current snatched assault boats down- 
stream before they could return for sub- 
sequent waves. Reluctance of engineers 
to leave cover on the east bank to paddle 
another load of infantrymen across the 
exposed river added to the problem. All 
attempts at organized crossing by waves 
broke down; men simply crossed when- 
ever they found an empty boat. After 
daylight an attempt to obscure German 
observation by smoke failed when damp 
air in the gorge prevented the smoke 
from rising much above the surface of 
the water. In early afternoon the 347th 
Infantry's reserve battalion still had been 
unable to cross when the assistant di- 
vision commander, Brig. Gen. John L. 
McKee, acting in the temporary absence 
of the division commander, ordered fur- 
ther attempts at the site abandoned. 

Upstream at Boppard, two battalions 
of the 345th Infantry had experiences 
more in keeping with Patton's theory 
that crossing in the inhospitable Rhine 
gorge eased the burden of the assault. 
Although patrols sent in advance of the 
main crossings to take out enemy strong- 
points drew heavy fire, the assault itself 
provoked little reaction. The leading 
companies made it in twelve minutes, 
and engineers were back with most of 
the assault boats in eight more. In con- 
trast to 7 men killed and no wounded 
in the battalion of the 347th Infantry 



276 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



that crossed at Rhens, one of the bat- 
talions at Boppard lost 1 man killed and 
17 wounded. In midafternoon General 
McKee made up for the lack of a reserve 
with the 347th Infantry opposite Rhens 
by sending a battalion of his reserve regi- 
ment to cross at Boppard and advance 
downstream to help the other regiment. 

For neither assault regiment was the 
going easy once the men got ashore, but 
both made steady progress nevertheless. 
Machine guns and 20-mm. antiaircraft 
guns were the main obstacles, particu- 
larly the antiaircraft pieces, which were 
strikingly effective against ground troops. 
Although plunging fire is seldom so 
deadly as grazing fire, the spewing of 
these guns was painful even when it came 
from positions high up the cliffs. 

By late afternoon the 345th Infantry 
had a firm hold on high ground lying 
inside axieep curve of the Rhine opposite 
Boppard, and the 347th had a similar 
grasp on high ground and the town of 
Oberlahnstein at the juncture of the 
Lahn and the Rhine. Probably reflecting 
the presence of the 276th Infantry Di- 
vision around Oberlahnstein, the only 
counterattack of the day — and that of 
little concern — struck a battalion of the 
347th Infantry. The worst obviously 
over with the assault crossing itself, Gen- 
eral McKee readied his reserve regiment 
to extend the attack to the east early the 
next morning. 

Throughout the morning of 25 March 
the 89th Division commander, General 
Finley, watched progress of the 87th's 
attack with the hope that part of his 
division might use the Boppard crossing 
site and sideslip back into its own zone, 
thereby obviating another direct am- 
phibious assault. As the day wore on, he 
reluctantly concluded that congestion 



and continued enemy fire at Boppard 
meant he had to go it alone. 

The experiences of both assault regi- 
ments of the 89th Division turned out to 
be similar to those of the 347th Infantry. 
Time and places were different {0200, 
26 March, at St. Goar and Oberwesel) , 
and the details varied, but early discov- 
ery by the Germans, the flares, erratic 
smoke screens, and the seemingly omni- 
present 20-mm. antiaircraft guns were 
the same. 

As at Rhens, for example, a battalion 
of the 354th Infantry at St. Goar came 
under intense German fire even before 
launching its assault boats. Flares and 
flame from a gasoline-soaked barge set 
afire in midstream by German tracers lit 
the entire gorge. Into the very maw of 
the resistance men of the leading com- 
panies paddled their frail craft. Many 
boats sank, sometimes carrying men to 
their deaths. Others, their occupants 
wounded, careened downstream, helpless 
in the swift current. A round from an 
antiaircraft gun exploded in Company 
E's command boat, killing both the com- 
pany commander, Capt. Paul O. Wof- 
ford, and his first sergeant. 

Although their ranks were riddled, the 
two leading companies reached the east 
bank and systematically set about clear- 
ing the town of St. Goarshausen. Most 
of the 89th Division's casualties (29 
killed, 146 missing, 102 wounded) were 
sustained by the 354th Infantry. 

Perhaps the most unusual feature of 
the 353d Infantry's crossing upstream at 
Oberwesel was the use of dukws for 
ferrying reinforcements even before the 
crossing sites were free of small arms fire. 
Word had it that an anxious, deter- 
mined, division commander, General 
Finley, personally prevailed upon engi- 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



277 




Crossing the Rhine Under Enemy Fire at St. Goar 



neers at the river to put the "ducks" of 
the 453d Amphibious Truck Company 
to early use. Capable of carrying eighteen 
infantrymen at once, the dukws speeded 
reinforcement. They also made less noise 
than power-propelled assault boats, and 
when noise more often than not invited 
enemy shelling, that made a difference. 

Having organized two light task forces 
for exploiting the crossings, General Fin- 
ley was eager to get them into the fight. 
When by noon he determined that both 
regimental bridgeheads still were too 
confined for exploitation, he arranged to 
fall back on his earlier hope of using 



the 87th Division's site at Boppard. 
There a bridge was already in place. 

In midafternoon the first of the two 
task forces began to cross at Boppard. 
Almost coincidentally, resistance op- 
posite both St. Goar and Oberwesel be- 
ban to crumble, revealing how brittle 
and shallow was the defense. In late after- 
noon, following a strike by a squadron 
of P-51 Mustangs, riflemen of the 354th 
Infantry carried rocky heights near the 
Lorelei, eliminating the last direct fire 
from the St. Goar crossing site. A few 
minutes later they raised an American 
flag atop the Lorelei. 




Raising the American Flag Atop the Lorelei overlooking the Rhine gorge. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



279 



As night fell on 26 March, report after 
report reaching the VIII Corps com- 
mander, General Middleton, indicated 
that the enemy's Rhine defense every- 
where was collapsing. Fighter pilots told 
of German vehicles trying to withdraw 
bumper-to-bumper down roads clogged 
with soldiers retreating on foot. Shortly 
before dark the 87th Division's 345th In- 
fantry broke away from the Rhine cliffs 
for a five-mile gain. Even more encour- 
aging news came from other units to the 
north and south. From the north an 
armored column emerging from the First 
Army's Remagen bridgehead down the 
Ruhr-Frankfurt autobahn seized Lim- 
burg on the Lahn River and was pointed 
across the VIII Corps front toward Wies- 
baden. To the south the Oppenheim 
bridgehead too exploded. Reacting to 
the obvious implications of these devel- 
opments but lacking an armored division 
to exploit them, General Middleton told 
the 6th Cavalry Group to divide into 
light armored task forces and head east 
the next day. 

What might well become the last big 
pursuit of the war appeared to be 
starting. 

To the Main River and Frankfurt 

The first explosion from the Oppen- 
heim bridgehead came during the after- 
noon of 24 March soon after Combat 
Command A arrived as vanguard of the 
4th Armored Division. The armor 
headed southeast to swing around the 
city of Darmstadt before setting out on 
the main axis of attack to the northeast. 
Once started, CCA's tankers and armored 
infantrymen appeared loath to halt. 
Taking advantage of a bright moonlit 
night, the combat command finally 



stopped after midnight only after half 
encircling Darmstadt and reaching a 
point more than fifteen miles from the 
Oppenheim crossing site. 21 

The spectacular start of the armor 
prompted the German Seventh Army's 
General Felber to abandon defense of 
Darmstadt. "In order to avoid the un- 
necessary annihilation of the few forces 
committed for the defense of the city," 
Felber rationalized later. 22 Felber 's ac- 
tion enabled the 4th Armored Division's 
reserve combat command to move in 
with little difficulty the next day. 

On 25 March the explosion became a 
general eruption. Leaving the jobs of 
mopping up and expanding the base or 
the bridgehead to infantry divisions, the 
XII Corps commander, General Eddy, 
ordered the 6th Armored Division into 
the bridgehead to strike directly north- 
east for a crossing of the Main River be- 
tween Frankfurt and Hanau. Combat 
Commands A and B of the 4th Armored 
Division also headed for the Main, one 
at Hanau, the other fifteen miles up- 
stream at Aschaffenburg. 

Having earlier missed an opportunity 
at the Moselle, men and commanders in 
both combat commands seemed obsessed 
with one thought: get a bridge. In both 
cases the obsession paid off. Held up 
along a main highway by 20-mm. flak 
guns, CCA left a platoon each of tanks 
and infantry to deal with the opposition, 
then continued the advance over back 
roads and trails. A mile upstream from 
Hanau, the combat command found a 
railway bridge to which an appendage 
had been added for vehicular traffic. At 



21 In addition to official records, see a series of 
helpful combat interviews on the 4th Armored 
Division. 

22 MS # B-381 (Felber). 



280 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



the last moment the Germans set off 
demolitions. Although they effectively 
blocked the railway portion of the 
bridge, the appendage, though damaged, 
still hung in place. While supporting 
artillery placed time fire over the bridge 
to deny the Germans a second chance, a 
company of armored infantry got ready 
to cross. Despite mines and booby traps 
that killed six men and wounded more 
than ten, the infantry made it. About the 
same time, Combat Command B at 
Aschaffenburg took a railway bridge 
intact. 

German efforts to dislodge the attack- 
ers were relatively feeble at Aschaffen- 
burg but caused considerable concern 
near Hanau, where only two companies 
of armored infantry were yet across the 
river and where the damaged bridge had 
so deteriorated that neither tanks nor 
additional foot troops could cross. Not 
long before dark a train bearing German 
troops and four 150-mm. railway guns 
arrived in the town opposite the bridge. 
Although the troops apparently were 
surprised to find Americans in the town, 
they quickly set out to drive them into 
the river. Men of both sides soon were 
so intermingled that for a while Ameri- 
can artillery dared not risk firing on the 
German guns. Fighting raged at close 
quarters until well after dark when 
American engineers completed a tread- 
way bridge and a third company of 
armored infantrymen joined the fray. By 
midnight the Americans were in firm 
control of the town. 

Early the next morning, 26 March, the 
6th Armored Division's Combat Com- 
mand A dashed through a large forest 
south of Frankfurt, bypassing the sprawl- 
ing Rhine-Main Airport, which infantry 
of the 5th Division would clear later in 



the day. In early afternoon the combat 
command reached the Main at Frank- 
furt's southern suburb of Sachsenhausen. 
There General Grow's armor also found 
a bridge still standing, although too dam- 
aged by demolitions for vehicles to use. 
A company of armored infantry crossed 
quickly to secure a few buildings at the 
north end of the bridge. 

What the demolitions had failed to 
accomplish, German self-propelled guns 
inside Frankfurt and big stationary anti- 
aircraft pieces on the periphery of the 
city tried to redeem. Almost any move- 
ment in the vicinity of the bridge was 
sufficient to bring down a rain of deadly 
shelling, much of it airbursts from the 
antiaircraft pieces. A battalion of the 5th 
Division's 11th Infantry nevertheless 
dashed across the bridge soon after night- 
fall and began to expand the slim hold- 
ings of the armored infantrymen on the 
north bank. 

All through the next day the German 
shelling continued to be so intense that 
engineers had no success trying to repair 
the bridge to enable tanks and tank de- 
stroyers to cross. During lulls in the 
enemy fire, more infantrymen of the 5th 
Division nevertheless managed to reach 
the north bank and get on with the task 
of clearing the rubble-strewn city, where 
police and some civilians along with a 
hodgepodge of military defenders tried 
in vain to deny the inevitable. 

The Hammelburg Mission 

News of the crossing of the Main at 
Aschaffenburg had in the meantime ex- 
cited the Third Army commander. Gen- 
eral Patton saw in it ah opportunity for 
a foray deep into German territory to 
liberate hundreds of American prisoners 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



281 



of war from an enclosure near Hammel- 
burg, some thirty-five miles to the north- 
east. A successful thrust to Hammelburg 
would outdo a similar raid executed a 
month earlier by General Douglas Mac- 
Arthur's forces in the Philippine Islands, 
while possibly concealing from the Ger- 
mans the Third Army's pending change 
of direction to the north. 

The man whose troops would have to 
carry out the foray was the 4th Armored 
Division commander, General Hoge, one 
of the heroes of Remagen who only a 
few days earlier had assumed command 
of the division when General Gaffey 
moved up to a corps. Both Hoge and the 
XII Corps commander, General Eddy, 
deplored Patton's scheme. When they 
failed to talk him out of it, General Eddy 
insisted on sending a small armored task 
force instead of diverting an entire com- 
bat command as Patton suggested. The 
change further upset Hoge, as it did the 
commander of CCB, Lt. Col. Creighton 
W. Abrams, whose command received 
the assignment. Both Hoge and Abrams 
believed a small task force would be 
destroyed, but they failed to convince 
Eddy. 

To make the thrust, Colonel Abrams 
created a task force built around a com- 
pany each of CCB's 10th Armored In- 
fantry and 37th Tank Battalions. Because 
of the illness of the infantry battalion 
commander, the infantry S-3, Capt. 
Abraham J. Baum, took command. Basic 
armament consisted of 10 medium and 6 
light tanks, 27 half-tracks, and 3 self- 
propelled 105-mm. assault guns. 

Strength totaled 293 officers and men, 
and Maj. Alexander Stiller, one of Pat- 
ton's aides, as well. Although Stiller out- 
ranked Baum, the understanding was 
clear that Baum was in full command. 



Stiller told both General Hoge and Col- 
onel Abrams that he wanted to go along 
"only because General Patton's son-in- 
law [Lt.] Colonel [John K.] Waters, was 
in the prison camp." 23 

Captain Baum's mission was to pro- 
ceed as rapidly as possible to the prisoner- 
of-war camp two miles south of 



Hammelburg. (Map 4) He was to load 
all vehicles to capacity with liberated 
prisoners for the return trip and to give 
the remaining prisoners a choice either 
of accompanying the task force on foot 
or making their way on their own to 
American lines. 

As Baum's little task force began to 
move shortly after midnight, 25 March, 
small arms fire in the first few towns in- 
flicted a number of casualties; but in 
general the Germans along the route 
were too surprised to fight back. It was 
still dark when at Lohr, just past the 
midpoint of the journey, the task force 
stumbled on a column of German ve- 



23 Quotation is from a letter from Abrams to 
OCMH, 13 Sep 67; see also comments by General 
Hoge on the draft MS for this volume. General 
Patton later denied to newsmen that he had known 
his son-in-law was at Hammelburg and told Waters 
the same thing. See letter, Waters to Editor, Army 
Magazine, 25 June 1965, commenting on an article 
in the magazine by Martin Blumenson, "The Ham- 
melburg Affair." See also letter, Waters to OCMH, 
9 June 1967. Patton unquestionably knew that 
Waters had been shifted westward from a prisoner- 
of-war camp in Poland just over a month before, 
for the word had come to him from Moscow by 
way of SHAEF. (See Gay Diary, entry of 9 Febru- 
ary 1945.) Other sources for this account of the 
Hammelburg action are as follows: Combat inter- 
view with Baum; 4th Armored Division, Notes on 
Task Force Baum, 10 April 1945 (loaned by Brig. 
Gen. Hal C. Pattison, formerly Executive Officer, 
Combat Command A); Patton, War As I Knew It, 
pages 275, 280-81; Capt. Kenneth Koyen, The 
Fourth Armored Division from the Beach to Ba- 
varia (Munich, Germany, 1946), pages 1 17-42 in 
the first edition, pages 181-206 in the second; Dyer, 
XII Corps, page 388; the article by Blumenson; and 
Toland, The Last 100 days, pages 287-99. 



282 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




M-Fiimemann. 



MAP 4 



hides heading west. Not even pausing in 
the advance, the American tankers 
opened fire, destroying twelve German 
vehicles with a loss of one medium tank. 
Outside Lohr they destroyed a German 
locomotive, and just before dawn at 
Gemuenden, three-fourths of the way to 
Hammelburg, they shot up seven more. 

On the outskirts of Gemuenden, de- 
fending Germans destroyed two more of 
Baum's tanks and blew up a bridge over 
a small stream, forcing a detour to the 
north. It was well into the day of 26 
March when, a few miles from Hammel- 
burg, the task force liberated about 700 
Russian soldiers, to whom they entrusted 
some 200 Germans captured in the 
course of the journey. A short while later 



the men spotted a German liaison plane 
hovering near the column. 

To Baum and his men the plane 
spelled trouble — an airborne Paul Re- 
vere alerting the German command 
against the thrust — but it actually mat- 
tered little, for the alarm already had 
been sounded. In advancing toward 
Lohr, Task Force Baum had passed 
within two miles of headquarters of the 
Seventh Army, which had escaped from 
Darmstadt and Aschaffenburg only steps 
ahead of the 4th Armored Division col- 
umns. For want of anything better, the 
staff quickly alerted headquarters of the 
local Wehrkreis. 2i 



MS # A-893 (Gersdorff). 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



283 



It was not this alert but mere chance 
that actually was responsible for the 
troubles that began to beset Task Force 
Baum. In midafternoon, as the task force 
sought to bypass the town of H^mmel- 
burg, a German assault gun battalion 
that had arrived only minutes before 
opened fire. 25 It took two hours of hard 
fighting and the loss of three more me- 
dium tanks, three jeeps, and seven half- 
tracks, including one loaded with 
precious gasoline, for the American col- 
umn to force a way through. The Ger- 
mans' loss of three assault guns and three 
ammunition carriers was small consola- 
tion for the American losses and the 
delay. 

When at last Task Force Baum ap- 
proached the prisoner-of-war enclosure, 
the tankers mistook Yugoslav prisoners 
for Germans and opened fire. At the re- 
quest of the camp commandant, three 
U.S. officers volunteered to go with a 
German officer under a makeshift Ameri- 
can flag to have the fire lifted. One of 
the Americans was Colonel Waters, Pat- 
ton's son-in-law, captured two years 
earlier in North Africa. As the group 
marched beyond the enclosure, a Ger- 
man soldier in a nearby barnyard fired 
one round from a rifle, wounding 
Colonel Waters. 

While the other officers were taking 
Colonel Waters back to the compound, 
the tanks of Task Force Baum broke the 
wire enclosure. The pandemonium of 
liberation took over. The number of 
prisoners far exceeded any previous esti- 
mate: 4,700, of whom 1,400 were Ameri- 
can officers. While as many as possible 
climbed aboard the remaining tanks and 



<*Ibid. 



half-tracks, others formed to march 
alongside. 

Well after dark Task Force Baum— 
reduced to about 1 10 men and only four 
of its medium tanks — started the return 
journey. By that time Germans rallied 
by an unidentified major home on leave 
in Hammelburg were ready. A round 
from a Panzerfaust knocked out Baum's 
leading tank a scant fifty yards from the 
prisoner-of-war enclosure. All hope of 
the physically unfit's accompanying the 
task force faded. They returned under a 
white flag to the enclosure. 

Seeking to avoid the apparent German 
strength near Hammelburg, Captain 
Baum turned the task force to the south- 
west; but at the village of Hessdorf, five 
miles away, another contingent of Ger- 
mans equipped with Panzerfausts lay in 
wait. There Baum lost two light tanks 
and one more medium. 28 

Retiring to a nearby hill to reorganize, 
Baum found the gasoline in his remain- 
ing vehicles dangerously low. He di- 
rected the men to siphon the fuel from 
eight of the half-tracks, then to destroy 
them. He placed the seriously wounded 
men in a building marked with a red 
cross, then readied the rest of the force, 
which included some sixty-five of the 
liberated prisoners, for another try at 
the return journey. 

They had yet to move out when, just 
before daylight (27 March) , a dozen 
German tanks supplemented by assault 
guns opened fire. Under cover of this 
fire, two companies of German infantry 
attacked. In rapid succession, one after 
another of Baum's tanks and other ve- 



28 One of the American prisoners who started the 
return journey with Task Force Baum, Lyle J. 
Bouck, Jr., has provided considerable detail on 
these events in a letter to OCMH, 8 March 1968. 



284 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




General Haislip 



hides went up in flames. His position 
apparently hopeless, Baum called a coun- 
cil of war. His instructions were brief. 
The survivors were to form in groups of 
three or four and attempt to infiltrate 
through the converging Germans and 
make their way to American lines. 

Baum himself tried to escape in com- 
pany with an unidentified lieutenant and 
Major Stiller. For most of the day they 
successfully kept under cover, while in 
the distance they could hear the baying 
of bloodhounds as the Germans me- 
thodically tracked down the survivors. 
Just before dark a German sergeant 
spotted the three officers. He fired, strik- 
ing Captain Baum in a leg (his third 
wound of the operation) . There seemed 
little choice but to surrender. 

Over the next few days, fifteen men 
from Task Force Baum made their way 
back to American lines. Nine were estab- 



lished as killed, 16 missing, 32 wounded, 
the others captured. There remained 
only for the Germans to make propa- 
ganda of the ill-starred raid. An entire 
American armored division attacking 
Hammelburg, the Germans claimed, had 
been destroyed. 27 

The Seventh Army Crossing at Worms 

As disappointing and tragic as was the 
outcome of the raid on Hammelburg, it 
was a relatively minor incident in an 
otherwise uninterrupted surge of Allied 
power against and beyond the Rhine 
defenses. General Patch's Seventh Army, 
its West Wall breakthrough and mop-up 
in the Saar-Palatinate completed, added 
its strength to that surge before daylight 
on 26 March, even as Task Force Baum 
began its ill-fated drive. 

Before the ease and extent of the vic- 
tory in the Saar-Palatinate had become 
apparent, the Supreme Commander, 
General Eisenhower, had offered an air- 
borne division (the 13th) to help the 
Seventh Army across the Rhine. Pri- 
marily because of the advantages the hills 
and forests of the Odenwald, east of 
Worms, would afford as a barrier to hos- 
tile movement against an airhead, Gen- 
eral Eisenhower's planners focused their 
attention on a crossing near Worms. 
From the viewpoint of advance beyond 
the bridgehead, the Seventh Army would 
have preferred a crossing about twenty 
miles to the south near Speyer, for there 
a plateau between the Odenwald and the 
Black Forest provides egress to the east. 
On the other hand, the help inherent in 



Tatton, War As I Knew. It, p. 279; MS # 
C-020 (Schramm). Casualty figures are from Koyen, 
The Fourth Armored Division (first edition) p. 
142. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



285 



an airborne attack was a compelling 
argument. 28 

After the unexpectedly rapid and deep 
intrusion of the Third Army into the 
Saar-Palatinate sharply narrowed the 
Seventh Army's Rhine frontage, Worms 
lost some of its attraction as a crossing 
site because it then lay on the extreme 
left of the Seventh Army's zone. News 
that preparations for the airborne assault 
could be completed only near the end of 
March took away still more of the lure. 
Then the Third Army's successful cross- 
ing of the Rhine at Oppenheim made 
Worms attractive again, even while 
making it obvious that an airborne assist 
would be unnecessary. The advantages 
of making the assault close to the Third 
Army's already established bridgehead, 
General Patch decided, outweighed 
other factors. Ordering his VI and XXI 
Corps to make contingent plans for sub- 
sidiary crossings near Speyer, he told 
General Haislip's XV Corps to make the 
main thrust at Worms. 29 

Mop-up of German pockets on the 
west bank, relief of Third Army di- 
visions that had violated the interarmy 
boundary, and the time-consuming trek 
of convoys bearing boats and bridging 
equipment from far in the rear imposed 
inevitable delay on the assault. Not for 
the Seventh Army a running broad-jump 
like that of the Third Army's 5th Di- 
vision. General Haislip's XV Corps was 
to make a deliberate two-division assault, 
the 45th Division just north of Worms, 
the 3d Division just south of town, with 
two more infantry divisions and a cavalry 
group scheduled for quick follow-up. 



28 Seventh Army Report, III, 741. 
26 SUSA Opns Instrs 103, 104, and 107, dated 22, 
23, and 24 Mar 45. 



The attack was to begin at 0230, 26 
March. 30 

The mechanics of getting ready rather 
than concern for enemy strength dictated 
the timing of the Seventh Army assault. 
Although intelligence officers estimated 
that remnants of twenty-two divisions 
had escaped across the Rhine in the gen- 
eral area, they could not believe, in view 
of the confusion accompanying their 
flight, that the German units represented 
any formidable strength. The Third 
Army's experience at Oppenheim cor- 
roborated the view, as did the experience 
of several reconnaissance patrols. One 
patrol, led by a battalion commander of 
the 45th Division's 180th Infantry, -re- 
connoitering on the east bank for half 
an hour the night of 24 March, found no 
mines, barbed wire, or emplacements. 
Although the men saw a few Germans 
and believed the Germans saw them, they 
drew no fire. 31 

Based on the actual German situation, 
General Patch's reasoning in deciding to 
cross the Rhine near Worms was justi- 
fied. Those Germans manning the east 
bank were part of the same Seventh 
Army that had already been rent asunder 
by the Third Army crossing. The sector 
came under General von Oriola's XIII 
Corps, already affected by the American 
attack at Oppenheim. 

This was the corps that had one fairly 
respectable divisional unit, the 559th 
Volks Grenadier Division, located at 



30 XV Corps FO 23, 2400 24 Mar 45; SUSA Opns 
Instrs 111, 25 Mar 45. 

31 Seventh Array Report, III, 747. Unless other- 
wise indicated, the account that follows is based on 
this source, on official records of the Seventh Army, 
its corps and divisions, and on Donald G. Taggart, 
ed., History of the Third Infantry Division in 
World War II (Washington: Infantry Journal 
Press, 1947). 



286 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Mannheim. Two other units that went 
by the names of the 246th and 3$2d 
Volks Grenadier Divisions, extending 
the line northward, were Kampfgruppen 
of about 400 men each. When the U.S. 
4th Armored Division had broken out 
from the Oppenheim bridgehead on 24 
March, the northernmost J52d Division 
had had to fall back. 32 

Like almost all German commanders 
in the vicinity, General von Oriola ex- 
pected the American armor to turn 
southeast to cut in behind the Odenwald 
and trap the adjacent First Army or at 
least to expand the Oppenheim bridge- 
head southward as far as Mannheim and 
the Neckar River. Two major north- 
south highways, the Darmstadt-Mann- 
heim autobahn on the Rhine flats and 
the Bergstrasse, the latter forming a di- 
viding line between the Odenwald hills 
and the Rhine lowlands, invited a turn 
to the south. In a feeble effort to forestall 
such a move. Oriola turned the retreat- 
ing remnants of the 352d Division to 
face northward astride the highways. 

Defense of the Rhine itself north and 
south of Worms was left to the 246th and 
559th Volks Grenadier Divisions, whose 
numbers permitted only "very sparse" 
occupation of the east bank and no depth 
at all. 33 The lack of depth was particu- 
larly disturbing because of the exposed 
nature of the defensive positions on the 
Rhine flats. The only corps reserve of 
any kind was an assault gun brigade that 
still had five guns. Artillery consisted of 
six understrength battalions, plus some 

82 The German account is drawn primarily from 
MS # B-392 (Oriola). See also MSS # A-«93 
(Gersdorff) and # B-348, Report on the Combat 
Engagements Within the Framework of the First 
Army During the Period from 24 March to 8 May 
1945 (Generalmajor Wolf Hauser). 

"MS # B-392 (Oriola). 



ninety stationary antiaircraft pieces 
around Mannheim. 

The new American assault against the 
Rhine would begin before any major 
realignment of German forces in re- 
sponse to the Oppenheim breakout oc- 
curred; but before the first day of the 
new attack came to an end, Oriola 's XIII 
Corps was destined to be transferred to 
the First Army. That was a logical move 
since the American breakout had effec- 
tively split the Seventh Army and since 
the First Army appeared seriously threat- 
ened should the Americans turn south- 
east or south. 

General Foertsch's First Army had es- 
caped across the Rhine in slightly better 
shape than had the Seventh Army, but 
still was in no condition to pose any real 
challenge. It had three corps head- 
quarters and the skeletons of, twelve 
divisions, though two of the latter were 
en route to the Seventh Army the night 
of 25 March and three others were in 
such a condition that General Foertsch 
had sent them to the rear in hope some- 
how of reconstituting them. That left 
seven, few of which were anything more 
than regimental-size Kampfgruppen. To 
provide an army reserve, Foertsch 
counted on the ijth SS Panzer Grena- 
dier Division, whose troops got behind 
the Rhine only late on the 25th and 
would require at least a day or two to 
reorganize. 34 

To know the status and locations of 
the major units in the German XIII 
Corps is to possess the basic ingredients 
of the story of the Rhine crossing by the 
Seventh Army XV Corps. In the zone of 
the 45th Division, north of Worms, 
where the weak Kampfgruppe called 

34 The First Army story is from MS # B-348 
(Hauser). 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



287 



246th Volks Grenadier Division barred 
the way, it was a case of fierce initial 
opposition from small arms, machine 
guns, mortars, and small caliber antiair- 
craft pieces, then a collapse. In the zone 
of the 3d Division, where the 559th Volks 
Grenadier Division had 60 percent of 
normal strength and where the big (up 
to 128-mm.) antiaircraft guns protecting 
Mannheim were in effective range, it was 
different. 

Vigilant German pickets opposite the 
3d Division, perhaps alerted by feigned 
crossing attempts to the south near 
Speyer, detected movement on the 
American-held west bank well before the 
H-hour of 0230. The Germans opened 
fire, primarily with mortars and antiair- 
craft guns, seriously hampering Ameri- 
can engineers who were trying to move 
assault boats to the water's edge and to 
shave the steep revetted banks for the 
amphibious vehicles that were to come 
later. Surprise compromised, American 
artillery opened a drumbeat of fire. In 
thirty-eight minutes the artillery ex- 
pended more than 10,000 rounds, "paint- 
ing the skyline a lurid red." 35 

Despite the light from a burning barn 
that illuminated the crossing site, little 
German fire fell as the first wave of 
infantrymen pushed into the stream. 
The artillery support had done its job 
well. The first wave of "storm boats" 
(metal pontons propelled by 50-hp. out- 
board motors) took less than a minute 
to cross the thousand feet of water. Only 
then, as the artillery desisted, did enemy 
fire begin to fall in disturbing volume. 

In the 45th Division sector, supporting 
artillery held its fire, for the hope was 
that the crossing preparations had gone 

ao Taggart, ed., History of the Third Division, 
P- 339- 



undetected. The hope proved vain. Al- 
though the first wave got almost across 
before the Germans came to life, the far 
bank at that point seemed to erupt with 
fire. The infantrymen had to come 
ashore with rifles and submachine guns 
blazing. For the better part of an hour a 
fight raged, while succeeding waves of 
boats took a fierce pounding. In the 
180th Infantry's sector more than half 
the assault boats in the second and third 
waves were lost, but once the first flush 
of resistance was over, men of the 45th 
Division began to push rapidly east- 
ward. 

About the only opposition that devel- 
oped from then on came in the villages. 
Planes that kept a constant vigil over 
the battlefield all day helped eliminate 
this resistance, by nightfall contact had 
been established with contingents of the 
Third Army on the left, and forward 
troops were across the Darmstadt-Mann- 
heim autobahn, a good eight miles be- 
yond the Rhine. 

The 3d Division, the effect of its ar- 
tillery preparation dissipated, lagged be- 
hind. One problem was an incessant 
chatter of machine gun and antiaircraft 
fire from an island in an offshoot of the 
Rhine southeast of Worms. Despite a 
smoke screen laid at the crossing sites, 
the fire hampered follow-up operations 
until well after midday when a battalion 
of the 15th Infantry cleared the island 
after an amphibious assault against the 
enemy's rear. Elsewhere the main re- 
sistance centered in the villages and in 
every cluster of houses. At two of the 
villages the Germans of the 559th Volks 
Grenadier Division crowned their op- 
position with counterattacks supported 
by self-propelled guns and mobile 20- 
mm. flakwagons. 



288 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 





Infantry of the 3D Division climb the east bank of the Rhine. 



Here and in the 45th Division sector 
amphibious tanks that crossed the Rhine 
close behind the infantry assault waves 
were put to good use. These were "DD" 
(duplex drive) tanks, M4 mediums 
equipped with twin propellers for pro- 
pulsion in the water and with a normal 
track drive for overland. An accordion- 
like canvas skirt enabled the tank to 
float. Of twenty-one DD tanks supporting 
the 3d Division, fifteen made it across 
the river. Of the six that failed, one was 
destroyed by shellfire before crossing, 
one stuck in the mud at the water's edge, 
the canvas on two was badly torn by shell 



fragments before the crossing, and two 
others sank after fragments punctured 
their canvas during the crossing. All 
fourteen DD tanks assigned to the 45th 
Division crossed safely. 

As night came, troops of the 3d Di- 
vision still had to pick their way through 
some two miles of thick forest before 
reaching the autobahn, and on the south 
flank heavy fire from the antiaircraft 
guns ringing Mannheim still proved 
troublesome. Indications nevertheless 
were developing that the 559th Folks 
Grenadier Division at last was giving up 
and that the XV Corps would be ready 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



289 



early the next morning, 27 March, to 
make the most of it. Already both a 
treadway bridge and a heavy ponton 
bridge were supplementing dukws, rafts, 
and ferries serving the 3d Division, and 
bridges were nearing completion behind 
the 45th Division. All artillery normally 
supporting the four assault regiments 
was across, and the Seventh Army com- 
mander, General Patch, had ordered 
transfer of the 12th Armored Division 
to the XV Corps for exploitation. Dur- 
ing the crossing operations more than 
2,500 Germans had surrendered, while 
XV Corps casualties reflected more noise 
than effect in the day's German fire. 
Losses totaled 42 killed and 151 
wounded. 36 

The XX Corps in the Rhine-Main Arc 

By nightfall of 26 March General 
Bradley's 12 th Army Group had estab- 
lished four solid bridgeheads across the 
Rhine — the First Army's at Remagen, 
the Third Army's VIII Corps along the 
Rhine gorge and XII Corps at Oppen- 
heim, and the Seventh Army's XV Corps 
at Worms. A fifth was pending, for the 
Third Army's General Patton still had 
one corps on the Rhine's west bank that 
he chose to send across by assault rather 
than by staging through either of his 
already established bridgeheads. He 
wanted General Walker's XX Corps to 
cross between his other two corps at 
Mainz. 

Just why Patton chose to make another 

m The 3d Division lost 29 killed, 131 wounded; 
the 45th, 13 killed, 20 wounded. Casualty figures 
are from XV Corps G-i Report, 26 March 1945. 
Some of the day's casualties, particularly men 
listed as missing, may not have been reflected until 
the next day's report, but in any case XV Corps 
losses probably were less than 450. 



assault crossing at this stage is mainly 
conjectural. He probably disdained any 
thought that the Germans could seri- 
ously interfere with a new crossing. Pat- 
ton also wanted to get on with the task 
of building permanent rail and highway 
bridges across the Rhine to speed his 
army's advance. Mainz with its network 
of roads and railways and its central lo- 
cation in relation to the army bound- 
aries was the logical spot for the 
bridges; and an assault crossing appeared 
the quickest way to free the east bank 
of Germans. 37 

Patton's original plan was to send a 
regiment from the already established 
VIII Corps bridgehead southeastward 
along the Rhine's east bank to support 
the new assault crossing by seizing high 
ground overlooking the crossing site. 
The 80th Division of the XX Corps then 
was to cross at Mainz. Eddy's XII Corps 
was to continue its drive to cross the 
Main River east of Frankfurt, where- 
upon all three corps were to head for 
the same objective, the town of Giessen 
and juncture with the First Army. "I 
told each Corps Commander that I ex- 
pected him to get there first," Patton 
recalled later, "so as to produce a proper 
feeling of rivalry." 38 

Somewhere along the line, Patton did 
away with the preliminary thrust to take 
the high ground overlooking the 80th 
Division crossing site. The reason went 
unrecorded, but it may have been be- 
cause of the explosive dash of an armored 



^Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 274; Gay Diary, 
entry of 26 Mar 45. See also XX Corps, The As- 
sault Crossing of the Rhine and Into Germany 
(a printed operational report), p. 3, and The XX 
Corps Association, XX Corps — Its History and 
Service in World War II (no date), an unofficial 
unit history. 

38 Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 874. 



290 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Duplex-Drive Tank With Skirt Folded 



division from the First Army bridgehead 
that looked for awhile as if it would 
carry to Wiesbaden, across the Rhine 
from Mainz. In late afternoon of 26 
March, the 12th Army Group chief of 
staff, Maj. Gen. Leven C. Allen, tele- 
phoned the news that the armor had 
seized a bridge intact over the Lahn 
River at Limburg, less than twenty miles 
from Wiesbaden. If the Third Army ap- 
proved, a combat command was prepared 
to cut across the front of the VIII Corps 
and capture Wiesbaden. 39 

39 Gay Diary, entry of 26 Mar 45; Patton, War 
As 1 Knew It, pp. 276-77. 



Patton did approve, but it was well 
into the next day, 27 March, before the 
armored force could start its drive; al- 
though a bridge had been captured, the 
Germans had blown it after only four 
tanks had crossed. When units of Mid- 
dleton's VIII Corps broke out of their 
bridgehead early on the 27 th, their col- 
umns quickly became entangled in those 
of the combat command. The objective 
soon ceased to be getting the armor to 
Wiesbaden; it became instead getting it 
out of Middleton's way. With the XX 
Corps scheduled to launch its crossing of 
the Rhine before daylight the next morn- 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



291 




Duplex-Drive Tank Enters the Water 



ing, chances were the attackers would 
find no friendly forces either in Wies- 
baden or along the Rhine opposite 
Mainz. 

Details of the XX Corps plan were 
worked out not by Patton but by his 
chief of staff, General Gay, while Patton 
was in the XII Corps bridgehead setting 
up Task Force Baum. 40 The 8oth Di- 
vision (General McBride) was to send 
one regiment across the Rhine at Mainz 



Gay Diary, entry of 26 Mar 45. 



while another regiment, having crossed 
into the XII Corps bridgehead, was to 
jump the Main River three miles up- 
stream from the Rhine opposite Hoch- 
heim. Forces from the two bridgeheads 
then were to converge to clear the angle 
or arc formed by the confluence of the 
Main and the Rhine. Aside from the 
obvious advantages of dividing the op- 
position with two crossings, the decision 
to jump the Main as well as the Rhine 
hinged on a desire to make full use of 
existing stocks of bridging equipment; 
the stocks were insufficient for two Rhine 
bridges but would suffice for one over 



292 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



the Rhine and another over the narrower 
Main. 41 

The Germans remaining in the Rhine- 
Main arc would give the XX Corps com- 
mander, General Walker, and his staff 
little pause. Even a cautious G-2 could 
find reason to believe that but one di- 
visional unit and a hodgepodge of lesser 
forces defended there, and the estimate 
of even one divisional unit was actually 
in error. To the Germans it was quite 
apparent that Wiesbaden and the sur- 
rounding sector were soon to be either 
captured or encircled; the Americans in 
the bridgeheads both north and south 
of the city would see to that. With this 
in prospect, no one on the scene would 
have been willing to leave sizable forces 
in the threatened arc — even had they 
been available. 

The same provisional XII Corps that 
had come to grief in the Oppenheim 
bridgehead had borne responsibility for 
this part of the front as well until mid- 
day 25 March, when General Kniess and 
the staff of his LXXXV Corps arrived. 
Theirs was a thankless, hopeless task; 
indeed, part of the staff had trouble even 
getting to the scene. Having been sent 
northward by Army Group G, the staff 
found American armor pouring out of 
the Oppenheim bridgehead and had to 
make a long detour to the east to avoid 
it, not to mention having the usual diffi- 
culty with ubiquitous American fighter- 
bombers that circumscribed almost all 
movement in daylight. 42 

When General Kniess took over from 



41 XX Corps, The Assault Crossing of the Rhine, 
P- 3- 

"For the German story, see MSS # A-893 
(Gersdorff), # B-831 (FelbeT), and # B-324, 
Rhine-Main (Maj. Hans H. Krueger of the 
LXXXV Corps staff, with comments by Gen 
Kniess). 



the provisional X// Corps on 25 March, 
he inherited only one divisional unit, the 
weak, almost ineffectual 159th Infantry 
Division, which was still south of the 
Main River. He had promise of three 
others, of which only one, the skeleton 
of an infantry division sent from the 
First Army, actually arrived. The other 
two were the nth Panzer Division, fast 
becoming the fire horse of the front now 
that the pth Panzer Division had vir- 
tually expired at Cologne, and the 6th 
SS Mountain Division, the latter ordered 
out of the lines of the LXXXIX Corps 
just before the U.S. VIII Corps estab- 
lished a bridgehead across the Rhine 
gorge; but both would become involved 
with units breaking out of the VIII 
Corps bridgehead before they could 
reach General Kniess's sector. 

Responsible for defending the Main 
River around Frankfurt and Hanau as 
well as the Rhine opposite Mainz, Gen- 
eral Kniess had to focus his attention on 
the Main River cities, since American 
armor was already racing toward them 
from the Oppenheim bridgehead. When 
a request to OB WEST for permission 
to withdraw from the Rhine-Main arc 
drew the usual blunt refusal, Kniess and 
the Seventh Army commander, General 
Felber, resorted to what Felber's chief of 
staff termed "the well tested method" of 
withdrawing most of the troops from the 
arc, leaving a weak shell in place to main- 
tain a semblance of defense. 43 

By that move Felber and Kniess wrote 
off the Rhine-Main arc and laid plans 
for a new defensive line extending north 
from Frankfurt. Just what troops were 
left in the arc by nightfall of 27 March 
neither of them probably knew for sure; 



"MS # A-893 (Gersdorff). 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE SOUTH 



293 



but as of two days before, there had been 
available to defend almost twenty-five 
miles of Rhine-Main frontage only three 
infantry replacement battalions with 
some engineer support, two artillery bat- 
talions, and scattered antiaircraft detach- 
ments. 

The connivance with Kniess to aban- 
don the Rhine-Main arc was one of 
General Felber's last acts as commander 
of the Seventh Army. Somebody had to 
pay for the failure — however inevitable 
— to prevent the American crossing of 
the Rhine at Oppenheim. That some- 
body was the army commander. Late on 
26 March, Felber relinquished his com- 
mand to General der Infanterie Hans 
von Obstfelder, a former interim com- 
mander of the First Army. General 
Kneiss, the LXXXV Corps commander, 
unable to do anything about either the 
armored spearheads spreading from Op- 
penheim or American crossings into the 
Rhine-Main arc, would follow Felber 
into Hitler's doghouse only three days 
later. 

It was a noisy little war the 80th Di- 
vision staged at Mainz and a few miles 
away on the Main River before daylight 
on 28 March, but few, on the American 
side at least, were hurt. Following a half- 
hour artillery preparation, men of the 
317th Infantry pushed out in assault 
boats at 0100 from slips and docks of the 
Mainz waterfront, despite a blaze of Ger- 



man fireworks, mainly small arms and 
20-mm. antiaircraft fire. Once the troops 
were ashore, the Germans mounted two 
small counterattacks, which like the fire 
on the river produced more tumult than 
effect. By the end of the day contingents 
of a follow-up regiment had cleared 
Wiesbaden and more than 900 Germans 
had thrown up their hands; the 317th 
Infantry had lost not a man killed and 
only five wounded. One of the more 
noteworthy events of the day was capture 
of a warehouse with 4,000 cases of cham- 
pagne. 

The 319th Infantry meanwhile en- 
countered less clamor along the Main 
opposite Hochheim but took a few more 
losses — 3 men killed, 3 missing, 16 
wounded; there too it looked more like 
theatrics staged by condottierei than 
genuine battle. By early afternoon the 
3igth had linked its bridgehead solidly 
with that of the 317th, and bridge con- 
struction was proceeding apace with 
scarcely a round of German shellfire to 
interfere. 44 

The Third Army's third major Rhine 
bridgehead came easy. Even those who 
believed their audacious army com- 
mander might have spared his troops a 
third assault crossing by using one of the 
bridgeheads previously established could 
find little quarrel with the outcome. 



44 This account is based primarily on official rec- 
ords of the 80th Division and its regiments. 



CHAPTER XIV 

The Rhine Crossings in the North 



Source of weird and romantic legends, 
the Rhine River has long held a peculiar 
fascination for the German people, a his- 
toric moat guarding them against the 
traditional enemies to the west. As the 
German armies in the summer of 1944 
fell back from defeat in France, their 
commanders appealed for authority to 
withdraw behind that moat, the only 
hope, they believed, for stopping the 
Allied armies and recovering from the 
debacle in France. Yet Hitler said no 
and continued to say no all through the 
fall and winter, so that with the coming 
of spring the military force that might 
have hoped to defend successfully at the 
Rhine had ceased to exist, destroyed in 
the fighting west of the river. 

That American armies had already 
jumped the Rhine before Field Marshal 
Montgomery was ready for an assault had 
no effect on General Eisenhower's plan 
to make the main Allied effort with the 
21 Army Group in the north, for the 
prize at which the main effort was aimed 
remained to be taken. This was the vast 
complex, fifty miles wide at its base along 
the Rhine, sixty miles deep, prewar pro- 
ducer of 65 percent of Germany's crude 
steel, 56 percent of its coal, the only 
major source of power left to the Ger- 
mans after the Russians had overrun 
Silesia and the Americans the Saar: the 
Ruhrgebiet, or Ruhr industrial area. 

In the planning days that preceded the 



invasion, the Allies had held that the 
Ruhr was the vital economic objective 
whose capture would precipitate German 
collapse. Since before D-day the Supreme 
Allied Commander and the senior Brit- 
ish commander, Montgomery, had held 
with single-minded determination to the 
view that the way to get the Ruhr was 
to make the main effort in the north. 

Long an exponent of the deliberate, 
set-piece attack, Field Marshal Mont- 
gomery had been looking ahead to the 
crossing of the Rhine since September 
of the preceding year when a daring 
coup de main involving three airborne 
divisions had failed to get the British 
across a downstream branch of the Rhine 
in the Netherlands. 1 So had the planners 
at SHAEF and at the First Canadian, 
Second British, and Ninth U.S. Armies. 

Planning conferences, particularly 
among engineer and ordnance specialists, 
had begun as early as October 1944. 2 By 
November a broad outline sufficiently 
detailed for general planning was at 
hand. A number of engineer units be- 
hind the lines were designated to train 



*For background on Operation Market-Garden, 
see MacDonald, The Siegfried Line Campaign. 

2 For Ninth Army planning, see Conquer: The 
Story of Ninth Army, pp. 199-242; for British plan- 
ning, Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, Nor- 
mandy to the Baltic (Germany: Printing and Sta- 
tionery Service, British Army of the Rhine, 1946), 
pp. 247-54; and for Canadian, Stacey, The Victory 
Campaign, pp. 527-34. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



295 



and experiment with amphibious equip- 
ment and river-crossing techniques. To 
an engineer group given that mission in 
the Ninth Army was attached Naval 
Unit Number 3, largest of three naval 
contingents supporting U.S. armies, 
equipped with twenty-four LCVP's and 
twenty-four LCM's (landing craft, me- 
dium) . A harbor craft company of the 
Transportation Corps later was attached 
to the engineer group to instruct in op- 
erating Seamules, 38-foot tugs powered 
by two 143-hp. engines. 8 A contingent of 
the Royal Navy also equipped with 
LCVP's and LCM's provided amphibi- 
ous support for the British. 4 

When planning resumed early in 1945 
after a lapse during the Ardennes coun- 
teroffensive, the question of adequate 
numbers of assault and landing craft and 
of sufficient bridging equipment came 
into consideration. Since the plan was 
that the other two Allied army groups 
were to cross the Rhine soon after the 
major effort in the north, there had to 
be enough for all three. Following a 
theaterwide survey, including Great 
Britain, General Eisenhower asked for 
hurry-up shipments from the United 
States. Also in January the Supreme 
Commander called a three-day meeting 
at SHAEF where river-crossing specialists 
from all three army groups pooled their 
knowledge. The SHAEF G—4 meanwhile 
estimated supply requirements for a 
Rhine bridgehead at 540 tons per day 
per division, and Field Marshal Mont- 
gomery made plans to forestall a supply 
bottleneck behind the lines by ordering 

8 The Seamules could be disassembled into four 
sections for transport overland. LCM's were 50-foot 
tank lighters, able to carry one medium tank, sixty 
men, or comparable cargo. For a description of 
LCVP's see above, Chapter XI. 

4 Stacey, The Victory Campaign, p. 535. 



construction of eight more bridges to 
supplement existing tactical bridges over 
the Maas River. 5 

In late January when the Ninth Army 
chief of staff, General Moore, attended a 
planning conference at headquarters of 
the 2 1 Army Group, it became apparent 
that little additional work could be done 
without at least a preliminary assignment 
of zones. Both the Second Army and the 
Ninth Army, for example, had been 
counting on using bridge sites at Wesel. 
In a directive issued on 2 1 January, Field 
Marshal Montgomery moved to clarify 
the situation, only to create, in the proc- 
ess, considerable concern among the 
Ninth Army staff. 

The Second Army, Montgomery di- 
rected, was to prepare to cross the Rhine 
at three places, near Rees (twenty-five 
miles upstream from Arnhem) , east of 
Xanten (another seven miles upstream 
near Wesel) , and in the vicinity of 
Rheinberg (some ten miles farther up- 
stream at the northwestern corner of the 
Ruhr) . Although an American corps of 
two infantry divisions was to be attached 
to the British for the crossing, the Ninth 
Army was not to participate in the as- 
sault. The American army was to be 
committed only for the exploitation 
phase. 6 

The Ninth Army, its historian has 
noted, was "flabbergasted!" 7 That only 
an American corps, submerged within a 
British army, was to participate in the 
great assault was to the Ninth Army staff 
inconceivable; but aside from that appar- 

5 21 AGp, Planning Dir for Opn Plunder, 17 
Feb 45, 12th AGp file, 37.13, V; Min, conf held at 
SHAEF to discuss problems connected with the 
crossing of the Rhine, SHAEF file, 370-47, I. 

"M-548, Opnl Dir, 21 AGp, 21 Jan 45, SHAEF 
SGS file, 381, III. 

7 Conquer:The Story of Ninth Army, p. 209. 



296 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Field Marshal Montgomery 



ent affront, what of the supply and 
evacuation problems arising from em- 
ployment of American units with the 
British? What of the mass of assault and 
bridging equipment already accumu- 
lated in the Ninth Army? Why waste in 
inaction the Ninth Army's formidable 
strength of twelve divisions? And what 
of the logistical problems of passing the 
entire Ninth Army through the British 
bridgehead? 

Fortunately, staffs and commanders of 
the Second British and Ninth U.S. 
Armies had through long experience in 
operating side by side achieved consid- 
erable rapport. After several discussions 
the Ninth Army commander, General 
Simpson, and his British opposite, Gen- 
eral Dempsey, submitted a revised plan 
calling for fuller American participation. 



They proposed narrowing the British 
sector, splitting the area around Xanten 
between the two armies, and making 
room for a two-corps assault by the Ninth 
Army from Xanten to Rheinberg. They 
proposed further that the assault be ex- 
tended to the northwest to make room 
for the First Canadian Army on the left 
of the British. 

Although Montgomery turned down 
the proposal, he appeared to comprehend 
the American position. On 4 February 
he issued new instructions assigning the 
Rheinberg area to a one-corps assault 
under the Ninth Army. Acknowledging 
the Ninth Army's requirements for ad- 
ditional bridge sites near Xanten at 
Wesel, he registered his intent to trans- 
fer Wesel to American use once the 
bridgehead was secure. Because of flood- 
plains, poor approaches, and high ground 
commanding likely crossing sites down- 
stream from Rees, he vetoed a Canadian 
assault but planned to attach a Canadian 
brigade to the British and subsequently 
commit additional Canadian forces in 
the bridgehead at Rees to drive down- 
stream and clear a crossing site for the 
First Canadian Army. Although this plan 
was little different from the first one, it 
assuaged American feelings by giving the 
Ninth Army control of the participating 
U.S. corps. 8 

The Big Build-up 

It was a staggering force of more than 
a million and a quarter men that Mont- 
gomery summoned to the assault in his 
final order issued on 9 March, two days 
after Remagen and the same day that the 
last Germans abandoned the west bank 

8 Ibid., p. 210; Stacey, The Victory Campaign, 
pp. 529-31' 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



297 



of the Rhine in the 2 1 Army Group zone. 
The Second Army had 1 1 divisions (3 of 
them armored, 2 airborne) and 6 
brigades (including 4 armored and 1 
Commando) . The Ninth Army also had 
1 1 divisions (3 of them armored) . The 
First Canadian Army had 8 divisions. 9 

Given a target date of 24 March and 
the code name Plunder, the 21 Army 
Group's crossing of the Rhine was to 
rival D-day in Normandy in terms not 
only of number of troops involved but 
also in build-up of supplies, transport, 
and special equipment, in amount of 
supporting firepower, in complexity of 
deception plans, and in general elabora- 
tion. A sampling of statistics provides a 
ready index to the immensity of what 
probably was the most elaborate assault 
river crossing operation of all time. The 
British alone marshaled 60,000 tons of 
ammunition, 30,000 tons of engineer 
stores, and 28,000 tons of other com- 
modities, all in addition to normal daily 
requirements. The Ninth Army built 
up another 138,000 tons of supplies. 
More than 37,000 British engineers were 
to participate, and 22,000 American. In- 
cluding attached Canadian units, the 
British had 3,411 artillery pieces, anti- 
tank and antiaircraft guns, and rocket 
projectors; the American, 2,070. The 
Ninth Army alone issued over 800,000 
maps. 

Both armies made extensive efforts to 
conceal their build-up, devising elabo- 
rate schemes of camouflage, creating 
dummy installations and equipment, in- 
tensifying patrolling and artillery fire in 
sectors not scheduled for assault, and 



"The 21 Army Group in mid-March contained 
1,703 Dutch, 5,982 Czechs, 6,696 Belgians, 14,915 
Poles, 182,136 Canadians, 328,919 Americans, and 
744,361 British, for a total strength of 1,284,712. 



maintaining a chemical smoke screen for 
ten days along a 20-mile front. Hardly 
any detail went unnoticed. To make 
room for mammoth trucks bringing the 
big landing craft to the water, bulldozers 
shoved buildings aside. Railheads were 
pushed forward, new roads constructed. 
Civilians for several miles west of the 
Rhine were evacuated. In the Ninth 
Army, engineers went so far as to borrow 
chemical heating pads from hospital 
units to wrap around outboard motors 
of assault craft to assure a ready start 
in the early spring chill. 10 

Along the 2 1 Army Group's front, the 
width of the Rhine varied from 900 to 
1,500 feet. In March, the current seldom 
exceeds five miles per hour and the 
depth is never less than nine feet, thus 
meeting conditions for employing both 
small and medium-size assault and land- 
ing craft. Banks of mixed sand and 
gravel are suitable for launching assault 
craft, but dikes rising twelve to fifteen 
feet above the surrounding ground and 
standing as much as two miles from the 
main channel of the river pose an engi- 
neering obstacle and provide a ready 
line of defense. 

The land on both sides of the Rhine 
is low and flat, creased by numerous 
creeks, canals, and drainage ditches. Run- 
ning on an east-west course and emptying 
into the Rhine just south of Wesel, the 
Lippe River and the generally parallel 
Lippe-Seiten Canal split the zone that 
Montgomery had chosen for the assault. 
The river would serve along part of its 
course as a boundary between American 
and British forces. One to four miles 
beyond the Rhine runs the Ruhr-Wesel- 

10 Conquer: The Story of Ninth Army, pp. 199- 
245; Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, pp. 
248-55; Stacey, The Victory Campaign, p. 533. 



298 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Arnhem rail line, along the most of its 
length built on fill, with highways pass- 
ing through culverts underneath. In the 
sector assigned the Ninth Army, the 
railroad becomes two lines, not quite a 
mile apart. Like the dikes, the railroads 
might serve a defender well, as might 
numerous towns, hamlets, settlements, 
and scattered buildings dotting the land- 
scape. This is not the urban complex 
that is the Ruhr a few miles away — in- 
deed, extensive fields and hundreds of 
patches of deciduous woods ranging from 
small woodlots to forests four to seven 
miles across provide a rural atmosphere 
— but the man-made structures are suf- 
ficient to afford a determined defender 
many a solid strongpoint. In winter and 
at the beginning of spring it was a drab, 
dull landscape, a study in shades of grey 
in which the technicolor of exploding 
shells looked out of place. 

Extending eleven miles south from the 
Lippe River, the Ninth Army's assault 
zone contained good roads leading east 
and northeast only on either flank, but 
that of the British afforded a spider web 
of highways leading northwest, north, 
and northeast. The concentration of 
roads made readily apparent why the 
Second Army's attack constituted Field 
Marshal Montgomery's main effort. 
While the Ninth Army with its assault 
corps blocked to the southeast to seal off 
the Ruhr, the British were to expand the 
center of the bridgehead and prepare for 
a deep strike northeastward across the 
north German plain. Once crossing sites 
were available downstream from Rees, 
the Canadians were to drive swiftly 
northward to trap any German forces 
remaining in the Netherlands., The 
Ninth Army was to send a corps through 
the British sector, taking advantage of 



the roadnet there to get into position for 
a thrust eastward to come in behind the 
Ruhr from the north. The Ninth Army 
was to move once Montgomery deemed 
the bridgehead secure enough for bridges 
at Wesel and for a main road north of 
the Lippe to be turned over permanently 
to the Ninth Army. 11 

As of 9 March, when Montgomery is- 
sued his basic order, plans for using the 
two airborne divisions that were attached 
to the Second Army and headquarters of 
the XVIII Airborne Corps that con- 
trolled them still were indefinite. Mont- 
gomery directed only that they make an 
airborne attack in support of the Second 
Army's assault, that they be called on to 
conduct independent operations for no 
longer than ten days, and that as soon as 
possible one of the airborne divisions — 
British — was to pass to control of the 
Second Army, the other — American — to 
the Ninth Army. 12 

Despite the vagueness, Allied com- 
manders had long planned to augment 
the major crossing of the Rhine with an 
airborne attack designed to eliminate 
enemy artillery and to block movement 
against the bridgehead. The Supreme 
Commander himself had expressed per- 
sonal interest in it. Since August of the 
preceding year planning had proceeded 
off and on, and in February the First 
Allied Airborne Army (General Brere- 
ton) had published a broad outline plan. 
Called Operation Varsity, the plan in- 
volved participation by three airborne 
divisions, but when a survey revealed 
insufficient airport facilities and trans- 
port aircraft for such a force, it was 
scaled down to a two-division effort. It 

11 21 AGp, M-579, g Mar 45, Orders for the Battle 
of the Rhine, SHAEF SGS file, 381— Plunder, I. 

12 Ibid. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



299 



was to be made by the XVIII Airborne 
Corps under General Ridgway, employ- 
ing the British 6th Airborne Division 
and the U.S. 17th. 13 

The job of transporting the airborne 
troops went to the U.S. IX Troop Car- 
rier Command (Maj. Gen. Paul L. Wil- 
liams) , with the 38 and 46 Groups of 
the Royal Air Force attached, all old 
hands at that sort of task. The Royal Air 
Force 2d Tactical Air Force (Air Chief 
Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham) was to 
provide air cover, escort, and tactical 
support. 

As with the ground assault, prepara- 
tion for the airborne attack involved a 
prodigious amount of planning and 
work. While detailed planning pro- 
ceeded, hundreds of construction engi- 
neers and civilian workers began 
expanding runways of Continental air- 
fields that normally accommodated only 
tactical aircraft. Having seen no combat 
since the Normandy invasion, the British 
6th Airborne Division was at full 
strength, while the U.S. 17th Airborne 
Division had fought hard in the Ar- 



13 Unless otherwise noted, material on airborne 
planning is from Lewis H. Brereton, The Brereton 
Diaries (New York: William Morrow and Com- 
pany, 1946), Part VI; Matthew B. Ridgway, Sum- 
mary of Ground Forces Participation in Operation 
Varsity, 25 April 1945, XVIII Corps Operation 
Varsity Report; First Allied Airborne Army, Op- 
eration Varsity, 19 May 1945; "Mission Accom- 
plished," A Summary of Military Operations of the 
XVIII Corps (Airborne) in the European Theatre 
of Operations, 1944-1945, published in Schwerin, 
Germany (no date) by the XVIII Corps (Air- 
borne); Operation Varsity, the Historical Report 
of the 17 th Airborne Division; and other official 
records of the First Allied Airborne Army and the 
XVIII Airborne Corps. See also Historical Division, 
Research Studies Institute, Air University, USAF 
Historical Study No. 97, Dr. John C. Warren, Air- 
borne Operations in World War II, European 
Theater, published at Maxwell Air Force Base, 
Alabama, September 1956. 



dennes and required intensive training 
to integrate individual replacements. A 
new table of organization and equipment 
for airborne divisions, which the U.S. 
War Department had ordered to go into 
effect on 1 March, complicated the task. 
Since the new table allowed only one 
glider infantry regiment, the division 
had to inactivate one regiment and ab- 
sorb the men from it in other units. 
Converting the glider field artillery bat- 
talions from two firing batteries to three 
left the division short one battalion, for 
which a replacement was to arrive only 
ten days before the target date. 

Men of the 17 th Airborne Division 
also had to learn to operate two previ- 
ously untried weapons — the 57-mm. and 
75-mm. recoilless rifles. Only recently 
brought to the European theater by ord- 
nance specialists from Washington, a 
hundred of the rifles were distributed 
among the four U.S. airborne divisions 
in the theater. Not only in lack of recoil 
were the weapons revolutionary but also 
in weight. The 57-mm. rifle weighed only 
45 pounds and could be fired from the 
shoulder. The 75-mm. rifle weighed 114 
pounds (as compared to 3,400 pounds 
for the standard 75-mm. gun and car- 
riage) and was fired from a machine gun 
tripod. In the 17th Airborne Division, 
the 57-mm. rifles were distributed di- 
rectly to the parachute battalions, with 
special crews trained to man them, while 
the 75-mm. pieces went to the antitank 
battalion. 14 

Even a hasty glance at a map of the 2 1 
Army Group's zone would reveal that the 
focus for any major attempt to cross the 

14 For technical data on recoilless rifles, see TM 
9-314; for development, see Green, Thomson, and 
Roots, The Ordnance Department: Planning Mu- 
nitions for War, pp. 330-31. 



300 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Rhine would be the city of Wesel (popu- 
lation, 24,000) with its roads and rail 
network. Thus the assignment given to 
the XVIII Airborne Corps was logical: 
to seize high ground crowned by the 
Diersfordter Forst northwest of Wesel, 
thereby denying the enemy dominant ob- 
servation on both the Wesel and Xanten 
crossing sites and blocking major high- 
ways leading both north and northwest 
from Wesel. 

The objective was concentrated, ad- 
mirably suited to capture and retention 
by two airborne divisions. At the same 
time, it was little over a mile from the 
projected Rhine crossing sites. Although 
the distance augured well for early 
linkup with the ground forces, it also 
dictated that if the airborne troops 
dropped before or coincident with the 
ground assault, which was normal prac- 
tice, the ground troops would have to 
forgo all but the shallowest artillery 
support. Further, the ground troops 
needed to begin their attack in darkness, 
whereas experience had shown daylight 
best for an airborne attack. 

The Second British Army commander, 
General Dempsey, suggested the solu- 
tion. The paratroopers and glidermen 
were to delay their assault until British 
infantry had gained a footing beyond the 
river. It seemed a simple solution, but 
nobody had ever done it that way before. 

Interdiction From the Air 

Not as an integral part of Operation 
Plunder but as a general preliminary 
to assault across the Rhine, Allied air 
forces since mid-February had been con- 
ducting a heavy bombing program called 
"Interdiction of Northwest Germany." 15 

w Craven and Cate, AAF 111, 771-73. 



The object was to seal off the Ruhr from 
the rest of Germany by destroying rail 
bridges and viaducts and attacking canal 
traffic along a broad arc extending from 
Bremen near the North Sea south and 
southwest around the periphery of the 
Ruhr to the Rhine south of the indus- 
trial region. West of this line attacks 
were directed at communications centers, 
rail yards, industry, and similar targets. 

From mid-February to 21 March Al- 
lied air forces concentrated on this task 
whenever any planes could be spared 
from other operations. Against the trans- 
portation system within the Ruhr alone, 
Allied bombardiers directed 31,635 tons 
of bombs. Heavy and medium bombers 
made 1,792 sorties against 17 rail bridges 
and viaducts along the arc encompassing 
the Ruhr. By 21 March, according to 
aerial reports, 10 of the bridges were 
destroyed and 5 others too damaged to 
use. After completing the job of helping 
the Canadian First Army and the U.S. 
Ninth Army to reach the Rhine, fighters 
and fighter-bombers of the British 2d 
Tactical Air Force and the U.S. XXIX 
Tactical Air Command (General Nu- 
gent) joined the Ruhr campaign. Most 
of the 7,311 sorties flown by these pilots 
between 1 1 and 2 1 March were directed 
against the rail and road systems of the 
Ruhr. 

In the last three days before the 21 
Army Group's assault, the heavy bomb- 
ers of the Eighth Air Force concentrated 
on enemy airfields and barracks, with 
particular attention to fields known to 
harbor jet aircraft. The heavies flew 
3,859 sorties. During the same period 
2,000 medium bombers of the U.S. 9th 
Bombardment Division hit communica- 
tions centers, rail yards, and flak posi- 
tions. Heavies of the Royal Air Force 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



301 



Bomber Command carried out a similar 
program, while the Allied tactical air- 
craft hit a variety of targets — airfields, 
flak positions, and troop concentrations. 
The total air effort during those three 
days, which the airmen called "proc- 
essing of the terrain," amounted to some 
1 1,000 sorties. For such a restricted area 
and against targets that already had been 
blasted from time to time over at least 
the preceding three years, the blow was 
devastating. 

The View From the East Bank 

Already mortally wounded in the late 
winter fighting west of the Rhine, 
stabbed anew at Remagen, the Germans 
dutifully went about preparing to defend 
the lower reaches of the river against a 
major attack that was but a question of 
time and specific location. This "shadow 
of an army," one German army group 
chief of staff called it; morale of the 
troops varying "from suspicion to callous 
resignation," an officer corps that "lacked 
confidence and wondered just what were 
the demands of duty"; this army, he said, 
"could only pretend to resist." 16 

Given not quite two weeks' respite 
following the last withdrawal of troops 
to the east bank, German commanders 
deployed their surviving formations in 
accord with their estimate that the main 
Allied attack would hit between Em- 
merich and Dinslaken (the latter seven 
miles southeast of Wesel) . The com- 
mander of Army Group H, General 
Blaskowitz, thus gave this sector to the 
stronger of his two weak forces, General 
Schlemm's First Parachute Army, while 
assigning the sector downstream from 



MS # A-965 (Wagener). 



Emmerich to the Twenty-fifth Army 
(General der Infanterie Guenther Blum- 
en tritt) . Blaskowitz and other German 
commanders also anticipated an airborne 
operation in conjunction with the river 
crossing, expecting that it would be 
launched ten miles or so northeast of 
Wesel to facilitate exploitation of the 
Allied bridgehead in that direction. 17 

Field Marshal Montgomery's intelli- 
gence staff estimated total German 
strength, including Volkssturm troops, 
opposite the entire 22-mile zone of as- 
sault at approximately 85,000, or some 
35,000 less than the strength of the one 
American corps involved in the assault. 
Yet even that figure probably was high. 
The First Parachute Army, whose posi- 
tions were basically contiguous to the 
zone of assault, had three corps, two of 
which had three makeshift divisions each 
and the third, two divisional formations. 
The strongest of the three, the // Para- 
chute Corps, located opposite the British 
near Rees, had only about 12,000 men, 
less than the normal strength of an Allied 
division. The parachute army's only re- 
serve was a replacement training di- 
vision. Army Group H's reserve was the 
XLVII Panzer Corps, which had rem- 
nants of a panzer grenadier division and 
a panzer division; between them, the two 
divisions had only 35 tanks. In all the 
army group there were no more than 200 
tanks and assault guns. 18 

On the plus side, Army Group H still 



17 MSS # B-414, Army Group H (OB NORD- 
WEST), 10 March-9 May 1945 (Col. Rolf Geyer, 
G-3, AGp H and later of OB NORDWEST); # 
B-593, The Battles of Army Group B on the Rhine 
up to Its Dissolution, 22 March-17 April 1945 
(Generalmajor Karl Wagener). 

18 MSS # B-414 (Geyer); # B-198, XLVII Panzer 
Corps, 8 March-16 April 1945 (General der Pan- 
zertruppen Heinrich von Luettwitz) . 



302 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



contained a reasonable complement of 
artillery, including a volks artillery corps 
and a volks werfer brigade to support the 
army group reserve. Firepower was in- 
creased by withdrawing almost all 
mobile antiaircraft units from the Neth- 
erlands and using them to supplement 
the fixed batteries in the vicinity of 
Wesel with an eye toward possible Allied 
airborne attack. (Allied commanders 
reckoned the Germans had 8 1 heavy and 
252 light antiaircraft pieces in this sec- 
tor.) Although all fortifications were of 
the hasty field variety, during the fort- 
night after the withdrawal behind the 
Rhine the Germans had prepared a fairly 
solid forward line along the river and 
the railroad that parallels the river, 
though there was little time for creating 
positions in depth. The new Commander 
in Chief West, Field Marshal Kesselring, 
reviewed and approved the defensive 
measures on 14 March. 19 

Despite the approval, Kesselring could 
have entertained no genuine optimism 
that his forces could hold successfully, 
for he had no reserves to send to Army 
Group H's assistance. Such optimism as 
there was received a sharp blow a week 
later, on 21 March, as Allied aircraft 
stepped up their bombardment. On that 
date, a bomb demolished a building 
housing headquarters of the First Para- 
chute Army. The commander, General 
Schlemm, was seriously wounded. Al- 
though Schlemm would remain on the 
scene until General Blumentritt could 
be released from the Twenty-fifth Army 
to assume command on the 28th, he ran 
a high fever and was in no condition to 
exert real influence on the battle. 20 



MS # B-414 (Geyer). 

Ibid.; MS # B-674 (General der Infanterie 



"Two if by sea" 

To the British and Americans it was 
clear that the Germans knew the assault 
was coming soon. Even if the spectacular 
smoke screen maintained on the west 
bank actually concealed all the prepara- 
tions, which it did not, the very presence 
of the screen would indicate impending 
assault. On 20 March the Army Group H 
commander, General Blaskowitz, ordered 
"an increased state of alert." 21 

Nervousness betrayed German con- 
cern to the waiting assault force. As the 
target date of 24 March neared, har- 
rassing artillery fire from the east bank 
increased markedly; patrol after patrol 
probed the west bank in quest of in- 
formation, as often as not ending up in 
Allied prison camps. Taking advantage 
of periods when Allied aircraft were ab- 
sent, German planes individually or in 
small groups strafed the Allied concen- 
trations of men and equipment, though 
without appreciable effect. Some German 
pilots concentrated on knocking Ameri- 
can artillery observation planes from the 
skies and succeeded in destroying eight. 22 
Almost every Allied patrol that sought 
to cross the river triggered nervous Ger- 
man fire. 

By midafternoon of 23 March, all on 
the Allied side was ready. In deference 
to the projected airborne assault, there 
remained only a last-minute consultation 
with the weather prophets before Field 
Marshal Montgomery at 1530 made the 
decision that set the vast machine the 21 
Army Group had become into motion. 



Guenther Blumentritt); Stacey, The Victory Cam- 
paign, p. 53511. 
"MS # B-414 (Geyer). 

22 Conquer: The Story of Ninth Army, pp. 235- 
36. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



303 



To hundreds o£ waiting units went the 
code words, "Two if by sea," which 
meant the British were coming. 

Around 1800 on the same day, normal 
British harassing artillery fires against 
German positions near Rees began to 
build in intensity. By 2100 the shelling 
had reached a crescendo as assault waves 
of a division of the Second British Army's 
30 Corps (Lt. Gen. Brian G. Horrocks) 
entered the river southeast of Rees. 



(Map XI) In less than seven minutes 
the British assault craft touched down 
on the far bank against no more than 
sporadic opposition. Paratroopers of the 
II Parachute Corps (General der Fall- 
schirmtruppen Eugen Meindl) were on 
hand, but the artillery had kept them 
down. In a matter of a few hours a col- 
umn of British infantry had reached the 
outskirts of Rees. 

While recognizing that this probably 
was not the main assault, the German 
army group commander, General Blasko- 
witz, directed the 15th Panzer Grenadier 
Division from his reserve to counter- 
attack at Rees in hope of throwing back 
the first group before the main assault 
could begin. 23 Since the British attack 
was designed primarily to draw German 
attention away from the Wesel sector, 
the German reaction demonstrated that 
the first phase of the Rhine crossing was 
a success. 

An hour after the first troops began 
to cross, a British Commando brigade 
paddled stealthily across the river at a 
point about two miles west of Wesel. 



23 German material is from MSS # B-414 (Geyer) 
and # B-198 (Luettwitz). Unless otherwise noted, 
the account of British and Canadian operations is 
from Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic; Stacey, 
The Victory Campaign; and Headquarters, British 
Army of the Rhine, Battlefield Tour, Operation 
Plunder. 



The commandos had little trouble touch- 
ing down, then moving quietly overland 
toward the city. Halting less than a mile 
outside, they waited while some 200 
planes of the Royal Air Force Bomber 
Command pounded their objective for 
fifteen minutes with more than a thou- 
sand tons of bombs. When the com- 
mandos moved in after midnight, the 
city was a mound of rubble, though Ger- 
man defenders were still much in evi- 
dence. Here stood a conglomerate force, 
the Wesel Division, organized around 
a nucleus of antiaircraft artillery units. 
The tenacity of the resistance belied the 
division's heterogeneity and loose organi- 
zation. It would be well into the day of 
24 March before the commandos could 
deem Wesel secure and dawn the next 
day before all resistance collapsed. 
Among the German casualties was the 
division commander, Generalmajor 
Friedrich Deutsch, killed in the fighting. 

At 0100 (24 March) a mammoth ar- 
tillery preparation for the main assault 
had begun. A division of the British 12 
Corps (Lt. Gen. Sir Neil M. Ritchie) 
prepared to cross the river an hour later 
northwest of Xanten. A division of the 
U.S. Ninth Army was to make a simul- 
taneous assault across the Rhine north of 
Rheinberg, to be followed an hour later 
by another division east and southeast of 
Rheinberg. 

Operation Flashpoint 

To General Anderson's XVI Corps, a 
fledgling among American corps with 
combat experience only in the drive 
from the Roer to the Rhine, fell the as- 
signment of directing the Ninth Army's 
assault crossing, called Operation Flash- 
point. The two divisions selected to 



304 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



make the crossing -were, on the other 
hand, veterans of combat in the Euro- 
pean theater since the preceding June — 
the 30th and 79th Divisions. Backing 
them up were the 8th Armored and the 
35th and 75th Divisions. The Ninth 
Army in addition still contained the 
XIII and XIX Corps with a total of six 
divisions. The army commander, Gen- 
eral Simpson, directed the XIII Corps to 
continue to defend along the Rhine 
south of the crossing sites while the XIX 
Corps assembled for early commitment 
in the bridgehead. 

With five divisions, Anderson's XVI 
Corps already was considerably larger 
than a normal corps and was beefed up 
further with supporting units. In addi- 
tion to regular XVI Corps artillery 
(Brig. Gen. Charles C. Brown) , attached 
in general support were the 34th Field 
Aitillery Brigade (Brig. Gen. John F. 
Uncles) with 13 battalions of medium, 
heavy, and superheavy pieces and the 
XIX Corps artillery headquarters (Brig. 
Gen. George D. Shea) with 1 1 battalions. 
Also attached were a tank destroyer 
group with 6 battalions, 6 separate tank 
battalions, 3 engineer combat groups, 2 
antiaircraft artillery groups, a smoke 
generator battalion, a chemical (4.2-inch 
mortar) battalion, and a host of smaller 
units, including the assigned naval 
contingent. These raised the strength of 
the corps to 120,000 men, more an army 
than a corps, supported by an impressive 
54 field artillery battalions. Artillery 
units of the XIII Corps and of one 
infantry division of that corps were to 
participate in the preparation fires and 
to answer calls for supporting fire as 
needed. 24 



Unless otherwise noted, the Ninth Army's story 



The Ninth Army's usual ally in the 
sky, General Nugent's XXIX Tactical 
Air Command, joined other Allied air 
units in the pre-D-day interdiction pro- 
gram and was to expend part of its effort 
on 24 March in support of the big air- 
borne attack, Operation Varsity. Yet 
enough planes were left over to provide 
armed reconnaissance in support of the 
Ninth Army and to assign a fighter- 
bomber group to work directly with each 
of the two assault infantry divisions. 

East of the Rhine, German defense of 
the approximately eight miles of front 
destined for assault by the XVI Corps 
was split between two corps of the First 
Parachute Army. The LXXXVI Corps 
under General der Infanterie Erich 
Straube had a primary task of holding 
Wesel but was also responsible for the 
sector from the Lippe River to a point 
on the Rhine southwest of Dinslaken. 
The 180th Division of this corps would 
face the American 30th Division and 
part of the 79th. The parachute army's 
weakest command, the LXIII Corps, 
under General der Infanterie Erich 
Abraham, bore responsibility for the re- 
maining two miles plus additional front- 
age as far south as the army group 
boundary in line with the Ruhr River 
south of Duisburg. The northernmost 
unit of Abraham's corps, a makeshift 
formation called the Hamburg Divi- 
sion, would face part of the 79th Divi- 
sion, while the 2d Parachute Division 
held the southern portion of the corps 
zone. 25 

is from official records of the XVI Corps and its 
divisions, from extensive combat interviews, and 
from three unofficial unit histories: Hewitt, Work- 
horse of the Western Front; History of the XVI 
Corps; and Conquer: The Story of the Ninth Army. 

^MS # B-414 (Geyer); XVI Corps intelligence 
reports. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



305 



A three-quarter moon dimly lit the 
landscape and a providential west wind 
was blowing the long-maintained smoke 
screen toward the enemy as engineers 
and infantrymen began to move storm 
and assault boats to the river's edge soon 
after midnight on 24 March. Accom- 
panied by General Simpson, the Su- 
preme Commander himself mingled and 
talked with the troops. The men were, 
General Eisenhower wrote later, "re- 
markably eager to finish the job." 26 

At 0100 as General Eisenhower and 
General Simpson moved to an observa- 
tion post in a church tower, the 2,070 
artillery pieces supporting the XVI 
Corps opened fire in a thunderstorm of 
sound. The earth trembled as one 
deafening explosion after another 
merged into a constant, ear-pounding 
cacophony. Every minute for sixty min- 
utes, more than a thousand shells ranging 
in weight from 25 to 325 pounds crashed 
to earth beyond the Rhine. During the 
hour-long preparation, the artillerymen 
fired a total of 65,261 rounds. 27 At the 
same time 1,500 heavy bombers were 
attacking a dozen airfields within range 
of the crossing sites. Against the back- 
drop of violence, infantrymen and engi- 
neers took their places in storm and 
double assault boats, while other engi- 
neers hoisted big pontons close to the 
water to begin their job of building 
bridges the moment the west bank was 
free of the first assault waves. 

All three regiments of the 30th Di- 
vision participated in the assault — the 
1 19th Infantry on the left, just southeast 



28 Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, p. 389; History 
of the XVI Corps, p. 40. 

" In the next four hours, they doubled this figure 
for a total of 131,450 rounds. See Conquer: The 
Story of the Ninth Army, p. 243. 



of the village of Buederich, near the 
confluence of the Lippe with the Rhine; 
the 117th Infantry in the center at the 
village of Wallach; and the 120th In- 
fantry two miles to the southeast near a 
big bend in the river just northeast of 
Rheinberg. Each regiment used one bat- 
talion in the assault. Each assault bat- 
talion was organized into four waves with 
two-minute intervals between waves. 
Each battalion had 54 storm boats (7 
men and a crew of 2) powered by 55-hp. 
motors and 30 double assault boats (14 
men and a crew of 3) driven by 22-hp. 
motors. Machine guns firing tracer bul- 
lets guided the first wave, while colored 
aircraft landing lights would show the 
way for those who followed. 

As the men awaited the signal to push 
into the stream, occasional German 
mortar fire fell, though with little effect. 
Only after the boats raced out onto the 
water and disappeared in swirls of gray 
smoke did any German shells find a 
target. They knocked out two of the 
119th Infantry's storm boats, killing one 
man and wounding three. That was all. 

In a matter of minutes, the bottoms of 
the boats in the first wave were scraping 
on the far bank, the men leaping from 
the craft and running toward the big 
dike. Only at one point, where men of 
Company G, 120th Infantry, landed a 
few hundred yards from their planned 
crossing site, was there fire from dug-in 
Germans on the dike, and Company G 
quickly silenced that without loss. Every- 
where else the Germans were mute. Al- 
though the artillery had scored few hits 
on the dike, the German defenders were 
blinded by the smoke and thoroughly 
cowed by the shelling. 

"There was no real fight to it," noted 
1st Lt. Whitney O. Refvem, commander 



306 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



of the 1 17th Infantry's Company B. "The 
artillery had done the job for us." 28 
The artillery was timed perfectly, the 
lieutenant observed, lifting only mo- 
ments before the assault boats reached 
the east bank. Two rounds of white 
phosphorus served as the signal that the 
artillery was passing on to more distant 
targets. 

Nor was there appreciable opposition 
to the crossing of succeeding waves, 
which normally could have been ex- 
pected to attract heavier shelling. The 
answer again was to be found in the 
mammoth artillery preparation, which 
had silenced at least some German guns 
and apparently had cut all telephone 
wires; since few forward observers had 
radios, they had no way to call for fire. 
Daylight was at hand before the first 
German shelling in appreciable amounts 
struck the crossing sites. 

There could be no question from the 
first that the 30th Division had staged 
a strikingly successful crossing of the 
sprawling Rhine. Within two hours of 
the jump-off, the first line of settlements 
east of the river was in hand, all three 
regiments had at least two battalions 
across, and a platoon of DD tanks had 
arrived to help the center regiment. In 
the assault crossing total casualties among 
all three regiments were even less than 
for the one regiment that had made the 
Third Army's surprise crossing twenty- 
eight hours earlier at Oppenheim. 

The British had crossed with similar 
ease near Xanten and had quickly 
pushed a thousand yards beyond the 
Rhine. It remained for the 79th Division 
to execute the last amphibious phase of 
the big assault, to cross the Rhine at 



Combat interview with Lieutenant Refvem. 



0300 at points east and southeast of 
Rheinberg. 

It was because of the southeastward 
curvature of the Rhine that the 79th 
Division's attack came an hour later than 
that of the 30th Division, thus affording 
men of the 30th a chance to overcome the 
handicap and also avoiding the risk of 
exposed inner flanks for both divisions. 29 
For the Germans opposite the 79th Di- 
vision, it meant two hours of artillery 
punishment instead of one. 

The 79th Division commander, Gen- 
eral Wyche, chose to make his crossing 
with two regiments side-by-side, each 
regiment using one battalion in the as- 
sault. Unlike the 30th Division, which 
used only storm boats for the first wave, 
reserving the slower assault boats for 
subsequent crossings, the assault units of 
the 79th Division mixed the two. They 
overcame the difference in speed by 
giving the assault boats a head start. 30 

Although the hour's delay afforded the 
79th Division additional artillery prep- 
aration, it also added an element of con- 
fusion, for by 0300 the west wind had 
decreased, allowing nature's fog and 
man's smoke to cling closely to the water 
and to both banks of the river. Except 
for a smattering of small arms fire, the 
Germans opposed the crossing no more 
effectively than they had that of the 30th 
Division; but the difficulty of holding 
course in the fog and smoke scattered and 
intermingled the units on the east bank. 
The men in some boats lost direction 
altogether and returned to the west bank. 
Thinking they had landed on the enemy 

29 Combat interview with General Wyche, CG 
79th Division. 

30 In addition to the usual records and combat 
interviews, the 79th Division prepared a special 
report, Rhine Crossing by the 79th Infantry Di- 
vision. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



307 



side of the river, men in one boat raced 
ashore in a skirmish line, only to meet 
other Americans coming down to the 
water to load. 

Yet in the absence of serious enemy 
reaction, the confusion was short-lived. 
Within forty-five minutes both assault 
battalions had assembled and begun their 
drives to the east. Like the men of the 
30th Division, those of the 79th at- 
tributed much of their easy success to 
the artillery preparation. The fire lifted 
only after the first boats were three- 
fourths of the way across the river. 
Prisoners said "they had never encount- 
ered anything like it, and it completely 
stunned, scared, and shook them." 31 

Well before daylight, two battalions 
were ashore in each regimental sector, 
and again there could be no question of 
the extent of the success. For both di- 
visions of the XVI Corps, detailed plan- 
ning, rehearsal on sand tables and on 
rear area rivers-, careful attention to de- 
ception, and intimate co-ordination with 
a powerful artillery arm had produced 
remarkable results. Together the two di- 
visions had crossed one of the most im- 
posing water obstacles in western Europe 
at a cost of thirty-one casualties. 

The Drive to the Railroads 

Success continued to crown the attack 
as the men drove eastward. Even before 
the second battalion of the 79th Di- 
vision's 315th Infantry had begun to 
cross the river, the leading battalion 
swept past the first railroad to the out- 
skirts of Dinslaken, a city of 25,000 al- 
most two miles from the crossing site. 
The leading battalion of the 313th In- 

31 Combat interview with Lt Col Norman King, 
Asst G-2, XVI Corps. 



fantry, on the south, also reached the 
first rail line quickly, then swung south- 
east to build up a flank defense along a 
canal that leads eastward from a man- 
made inlet forming the harbor of the 
Rhine town of Walsum. 

Seldom did the Germans offer more 
than perfunctory defense. One explana- 
tion was that the 79th Division had 
struck on the seam between the 180th 
Division and the Hamburg Division, 
which was also the boundary between 
Straube's LXXXVI Corps and Abra- 
ham's LXIII Corps. Another was the 
limited number of trained men available 
to the Germans. Still another, obviously, 
was the weight of the Allied artillery 
bombardment. In those cases where the 
Germans did stand to fight, the Ameri- 
can regiments brought to bear a weapon 
they had borrowed from their enemy — 
the Panzerfaust. Both regiments had 
equipped their assault battalions with 
200 of these one-shot German antitank 
rockets. The blast effect of the weapons 
against buildings more often than not 
convinced even die-hard occupants to 
surrender. 

So irresolute and spotty was resistance 
in front of the 79th Division that not 
once during the day of 24 March did 
the division call on the fighter-bomber 
group that was assigned in support. Nor 
was the weight of armor — often crucial 
in a bridgehead battle — necessary; the 
fact that medium tanks and tank destroy- 
ers did not arrive in the bridgehead 
until midafternoon mattered little. By 
nightfall the 79th Division held a bridge- 
head more than three miles wide and 
deep, securely anchored on canal lines 
on both north and south, embracing 
Dinslaken, and in the north extending 
well beyond the second railroad. The di- 



308 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



vision reserve, the 314th Infantry, was 
on hand, along with supporting tank and 
tank destroyer battalions. More than 700 
prisoners were on their way to the rear, 
and American casualties were few. The 
313th Infantry, for example, lost 1 man 
killed and 1 1 wounded. 32 

For the 30th Division, striking into 
the center of the enemy's 180th Division,, 
most gains were harder to come by, but 
they came nevertheless. The 119th In- 
fantry, on the north, ran into its first 
real trouble in midmorning at a highway 
underpass at the first railroad. It took the 
help of light tanks, ferried across the 
Rhine in LCM's, to force a way past. The 
117th Infantry had similar trouble at 
another underpass farther to the south, 
where an antitank piece blocked efforts 
to fill a crater that barred the road; sup- 
porting artillery eventually eliminated 
the German gun. By the end of the day 
both regiments had passed beyond the 
second railroad, while a two-company 
task force had cleared troublesome anti- 
aircraft pieces from a spit of land north 
of the Lippe-Seiten Canal and had 
reached the Lippe River across from 
Wesel. 

In the zone of the third regiment, the 
120th Infantry, on the south, the most 
exciting development occurred. There, 
when the 3d Battalion under Maj. Chris 
McCullough soon after midday took the 
village of Moellen, astride the first rail- 
road, patrols ranging eastward reported 
they found almost no Germans. Al- 
though the battalion already was consid- 
erably ahead of the rest of the regiment, 
the regimental commander, Col. Branner 



33 No total figure is available for the 315th In- 
fantry, though losses were considerably higher, 
since one battalion incurred 38 casualties and 
another 30. 



P. Purdue, determined to attempt a deep 
probe past the second railroad into open 
farm country beyond. By midafternoon 
a company of medium tanks, brought 
across the Rhine on Bailey rafts, and a 
platoon of tank destroyers, transported 
to the east bank by LCM's, were on their 
way to join the battalion. 

One rifle company was loading on the 
tanks to start the drive when, without 
warning, a heavy concentration of 
artillery fire began to fall. The men 
scrambled for cover, then realized in 
consternation that the fire had come from 
the west. It was "friendly" fire. A quick 
check revealed no error on the part of 
artillery units supporting the 30th' Di- 
vision. The fault lay with the neighbor- 
ing 79th whose troops had spotted the 
3d Battalion's assembly and thought it a 
German force preparing to counter- 
attack. 

The 30th Division commander, Gen- 
eral Hobbs, was quick on the telephone 
to his counterpart in the 79th Division, 
General Wyche. Since the interdivision 
boundary was a readily recognizable 
canal line, Hobbs could see no excuse 
for the error. He needed no artillery 
assistance, he said caustically. "We have 
battalions to spare to fire into anything 
in our zone." 33 

The fire fortunately caused only minor 
casualties. Quickly re-forming, Major 
McCullough's battalion and his attached 
tanks and tank destroyers soon found 
the patrol reports were accurate. The 
column swept swiftly eastward, picking 
up forty docile Germans on the way, 
and halted for the night in open country 
a mile beyond the Dinslaken- Wesel high- 
way. Although this position was only 

33 Telecon, Hobbs to Wyche, 30th Div G-3 Jnl 
file, 23-25 Mar 45. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



309 



three miles beyond the easternmost curve 
of the Rhine and generally on line with 
advance contingents of the 79th Division, 
it was well forward of other units of the 
30th Division and six miles beyond the 
Rhine as it ran through the division's 
sector. McCullough's battalion thus had 
reached the limit of effective direct sup- 
port artillery fire. 

Although thus forced to halt, Major 
McCullough and his superiors were con- 
vinced they had achieved a breakthrough 
of the German positions. A 105-mm. ar- 
tillery battalion, General Hobbs prom- 
ised, would be on hand to support a 
swift advance the next day. 

As a result of ingenious advance prep- 
arations by supporting engineers and of 
a continuing smoke screen that ham- 
pered German observation, a treadway 
bridge was opened to traffic at 1600. The 
bridge later was damaged when a Bailey 
raft loaded with a tank crashed into it, 
but not before the 118th Field Artillery 
Battalion had crossed. The bridge was 
back in service soon after midnight. 

This bridge and the quick advance of 
Major McCullough's battalion made the 
30th Division's position as night fell on 
the first day even more promising than 
that of the 79th Division. In the latter's 
sector, artillery fire and airbursts from 
big antiaircraft pieces delayed bridge 
construction and, though resistance was 
light, no indication of a clear break- 
through had developed. The 30th Di- 
vision had taken 1,500 prisoners, more 
than double the number taken by the 
79th. 

Operation Varsity 

Troops of the 30th Division were 
fighting at the first railroad and those 



of the 79th were clearing Dinslaken 
when shortly before 1000 on 24 March 
the steady drone of hundreds of aircraft 
motors began to emerge from the west. 
For two hours and thirty-two minutes 
the deep, throbbing hum of the motors 
was to continue. Since no pathfinder 
planes came in advance, even the first 
glimpse of planes gave the impression of 
the coming of a vast air armada. The 
great train was composed of 889 escorting 
fighters, 1,696 transport planes, and 1,348 
gliders, bringing to the battlefield 21,680 
paratroopers and glidermen, followed 
closely by 240 four-engine Liberator 
bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force 
dropping 582 tons of supplies. 34 Another 
2,153 fighter aircraft either maintained 
a protective umbrella over the target area 
or ranged far over Germany in quest of 
any German plane that might seek to 
interfere. None did. In addition, 2,596 
heavy bombers (660 of them from the 
Fifteenth Air Force in Italy) and 821 
medium bombers attacked airfields, 
bridges, marshaling areas, and other tar- 
gets throughout Germany. 



34 Statistics from Report by the Supreme Com- 
mander to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the 
Operations in Europe of the Allied Expeditionary 
Force, 6 June 1944 to 8 May 1945 (Washington, 
1946) (hereafter cited as Eisenhower, Report), p. 
100, and John C. Warren, Airborne Operations in 
World War II, European Theater, pp. 228-29. The 
total number of troops, aircraft, and gliders ex- 
ceeded the total for the first day in Operation 
Market (about 20,000 troops, 1,545 transport 
planes, and 478 gliders), though additional troops 
landing after D-day made Market the larger op- 
eration. Unless otherwise noted, the account of 
Varsity is based on the two sources cited and on 
the following: First Allied Airborne Army, Opera- 
tion Varsity; 17th Airborne Division, Operation 
Varsity; journals and other official records of the 
division; XVIII Airborne Corps, Operation Varsity; 
and two combat interviews with officers of the divi- 
sion. The unit history of the XVIII Airborne 
Corps, "Mission Accomplished," is sketchy. 



310 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



The men of the U.S. 17th Airborne 
Division (General Miley) had risen 
from twelve airfields north and south of 
Paris, those of the British 6th Airborne 
Division from airfields in England. In an 
intricately timed maneuver, they had 
rendezvoused near Brussels. Tails of both 
divisions, including 2,005 motor vehicles 
belonging to the American unit, had 
earlier headed for the target area by 
land. In anticipation of early linkup of 
airborne and ground troops, the com- 
mander, General Ridgway, and staff of 
the XVIII Airborne Corps did not par- 
ticipate in the airborne assault but were 
already in position on the west bank of 
the Rhine. The commander of the First 
Allied Airborne Army, General Brere- 
ton, also took up post on the west bank. 
The Supreme Commander and British 
Prime Minister Churchill, the latter in 
company with the Chief of the Imperial 
General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan 
Brooke, watched the airborne attack 
from vantage points on separate hills. 35 

There was much to see even before 
the aerial train approached. Executing 
the climax to operations begun three 
days earlier, medium bombers and 
fighter-bombers of the Ninth Air Force 
and British Second Tactical Air Force, 
for half an hour preceding arrival of the 
first transports, rained fragmentation 
bombs on antiaircraft batteries in the 
vicinity of the drop and landing zones. 38 



35 Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, p. 390; Winston 
S. Churchill, "The Second World War," vol. VI, 
Triumph and Tragedy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 
Company, 1953), p. 413. The next day, D plus 1, 
Churchill, Brooke, Montgomery, and Generals 
Simpson and Anderson made a round trip across 
the Rhine in an LCM in the sector of the XVI 
Corps. 

Craven and Cate, AAF III, 774. 




American Paratrooper Caught in a 
Tree 



At the same time, artillery of the British 
Second Army pounded antiaircraft gun 
positions short of a predesignated bomb 
line. 

The sky was clear and bright in mid- 
morning of 24 March, but a ground haze 
aggravated by drifting smoke from the 
screen along the Rhine lowered visibility 
close to the ground. Slightly ahead of 
schedule, the first flight of transport 
planes appeared over the target area at 
0953. Carrying a battalion of the 507th 
Parachute Infantry, the planes missed the 
designated drop zone, a spot of cleared 
land just northwest of Wesel on the 
southern skirt of the Diersfordter Forst, 
the closest planned drop zone to the 
Rhine. The paratroopers came to earth 
instead a mile and three-quarters to the 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



an 



northwest on the other side of the wood 
in a field near the town of Diersfordt. 37 

Because this flight arrived close behind 
the air and artillery antiflak program, it 
received little antiaircraft fire, but the 
drop pattern was widely dispersed none- 
theless. The paratroopers coalesced into 
two relatively equal groups, one under 
the regimental commander, Col. Edson 
D. Raff, the other under the battalion 
commander, Maj. Paul F. Smith. 

While Major Smith's group was de- 
stroying several antiaircraft positions, 
Colonel Raff's men disposed of a nest of 
machine guns and dug-in infantry and 
began to work southward through the 
forest toward the assigned regimental ob- 
jective, relatively high ground along the 
fringe of the wood near Diersfordt. 
Spotting a battery of five 150-mm. ar- 
tillery pieces firing from a clearing, Raff 
and his force detoured to eliminate it. 
They captured both the German artil- 
lerymen and the guns and spiked the 
guns with thermite grenades. By the time 
Raff's paratroopers reached the vicinity 
of Diersfordt, they had killed about 55 
Germans, wounded 40, and captured 
300, including a colonel. 

The other two battalions of the 507th 
Parachute Infantry had in the meantime 
landed successfully on the assigned drop 
zone. As one of these, the 3d, got ready 
to attack Diersfordt and a castle that 



"A stick of paratroopers landing together in a 
field came under sharp fire from German riflemen 
and a machine gunner even as the paratroopers 
struggled to free themselves from their harnesses. 
One man, Pvt. George J. Peters, charged the ma- 
chine gun, seventy-five yards away. Halfway to the 
gun, German fire knocked him down, but he 
struggled to his feet to continue the charge. 
Knocked down again, he crawled close enough to 
the gun to eliminate it with hand grenades before 
dying from his wounds. Private Peters was awarded 
the Medal of Honor posthumously. 



dominates it, two German tanks emerged 
from the castle and headed down a nar- 
row forest road toward the waiting para- 
troopers. An aptly placed antitank 
grenade induced the crew of the lead 
tank to surrender, whereupon a tank 
hunter team armed with a 57-mm. re- 
coilless rifle set the second afire with a 
direct hit, the first instance of successful 
combat use of the new weapon. 

Resistance in Diersfordt, it soon de- 
veloped, meant the castle. While two 
companies laid down a base of fire from 
the edge of the forest against turrets and 
upper windows, Company G entered and 
began to clean out the castle, room by 
room. Two hours later, at 1500, those 
Germans who remained capitulated. 
Among the 300 prisoners were several 
senior officers of General Straube's 
LXXXVI Corps and of the 84th Infantry 
Division, 

By nightfall the 507th Parachute In- 
fantry had consolidated along the woods 
line near Diersfordt and patrols had 
established contact with the 1st Com- 
mando Brigade in Wesel. Ten 75-mm. 
pack howitzers of the 464th Parachute 
Field Artillery Battalion were tied in to 
the position. 

Second of the 17th Airborne Division's 
regiments to drop, the 513th Parachute 
Infantry incurred intense antiaircraft fire 
from an enemy no longer deterred by the 
Allied bombardment. All three bat- 
talions of the regiment landed more than 
a mile from their assigned drop zones 
inside the sector of the 6th Airborne 
Division north of Wesel near the town 
of Hamminkeln. Heavy small arms fire 
followed the paratroopers to the ground. 
After a short but sharp fire fight, they 
were able to assemble by battalions and 
fight their way southward to their as- 



312 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Glider Troops After Landing Near Wesel 



signed zones. In the process the para- 
troopers destroyed two German tanks, a 
self-propelled gun, and two batteries of 
88's. While one battalion dug in on the 
landing zone, another cleared the woods 
north of Diersfordt and a third moved to 
the little Issel River, which marked the 
eastern extremity of the planned D-day 
objective line. 38 

38 As Company E was advancing, Germans in a 
complex of buildings opened fire with automatic 
weapons, rifles, and four field pieces. The lead 
platoon was pinned to the ground until a runner, 
Pfc. Stuart S. Stryker, rose in full view of the 
enemy, rallied the men, and led a charge on the 
buildings. German fire cut Stryker down as he 



Although the 5 lath's supporting ar- 
tillery, the 466th Parachute Field Ar- 
tillery Battalion, landed on the correct 
drop zone southwest of Hamminkeln, 
enemy fire there was even heavier than 
that encountered by the infantry. A num- 
ber of key men, including all the officers 
of one battery, were killed or wounded 
on the drop zone. The artillerymen 
nevertheless managed to assemble some 



neared the buildings, but the others went on to 
overrun the position. They captured more than 
200 Germans and rescued three captive American 
airmen. Private Stryker was awarded the Medal of 
Honor posthumously. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



313 



of their howitzers within half an hour, 
enabling them to place direct fire on the 
Germans and gradually to eliminate the 
opposition. By noon they had captured 
ten German 76-mm. pieces and were in 
position to provide supporting fire for 
the 513th Parachute Infantry. 

It remained for the glider echelons, 
including service elements of the di- 
vision, to better the record for accuracy 
in landing. At least go percent of the 
gliders descended on the proper landing 
zones north and northeast of Wesel in an 
eastward-oriented angle formed by the 
Issel River and the Issel Canal. Although 
German fire was in some cases intense, 
destroying some of the gliders even after 
they had landed safely, men of the 194th 
Glider Infantry within two hours of 
landing had swept to the river and the 
canal and most of the howitzers of the 
division's two glider field artillery bat- 
talions were in position to support them. 
One of the infantry battalions knocked 
out two German tanks en route to its 
objective along the river, then accounted 
for two more in repulsing small counter- 
attacks after the men had dug in. 

The British 6th Airborne Division 
encountered similar difficulty with flak 
and enemy ground fire but also moved 
swiftly to seize D-day objectives. By 1300 
the town of Hamminkeln was in British 
hands along with several bridges over the 
Issel River east and northeast of the 
town. 

Operation Varsity, the airborne phase 
of the big Rhine assault, was an impres- 
sive success. All airborne troops were 
on the ground by 1230, along with 109 
tons of ammunition, 695 vehicles, and 
113 artillery pieces; and in a matter of 
hours, both Americans and British had 
seized all objectives assigned for the first 



day. In the process they had virtually 
eliminated the artillery and service ele- 
ments of the enemy's 84th Infantry Di- 
vision. Except for a surrounded pocket 
north of Diersfordt made up mainly of 
remnants of the /053d Infantry, the 
enemy division had ceased to function as 
a tactical organization. 39 The 17th Air- 
borne Division claimed 2,000 prisoners, 
the 6th Airborne Division, another 
1,500. 

Linkup with British ground troops 
was firm by nightfall, and as early as 
midafternoon the XVIII Airborne Corps 
commander, General Ridgway, joined 
the 17th Airborne Division commander, 
General Miley, beyond the Rhine. By 
late afternoon supplies were moving 
across the Rhine in dukws in such vol- 
ume as to eliminate the need for addi- 
tional supply by air. 

Yet for all the success of Operation 
Varsity, the question remained whether 
under the prevailing circumstances an 
airborne attack had been necessary or 
was even justified. It unquestionably 
aided British ground troops, but at a cost 
to the 17th Airborne Division alone dur- 
ing the first day's operations of 159 men 
killed, 522 wounded, and 840 missing 

(though 600 of the missing subsequently 
turned up to fight again) . The IX Troop 
Carrier Command alone lost 41 killed, 

153 wounded, 163 missing. 40 The air- 
borne assault also cost over 50 gliders 
and 44 transport aircraft destroyed, 332 

38 Intelligence Sum for period 241800 to 242359, 
XVIII Airborne Corps, and Sitrep 4, 24 Mar 45, 
XVIII Airborne Corps. 

40 Figures are from 17th Airborne Division His- 
tory, 15 April 1943-16 September 1945, and Warren, 
Airborne Operations in World War II, p. 229. First- 
day losses of the two U.S. infantry divisions that 
crossed the Rhine on 24 March by amphibious 
assault were 41 killed, 450 wounded, 7 missing. See 
Conquer: The Story of the Ninth Army, p. 247. 



314 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



damaged. In the low-level supply mission 
flown directly after the assault by 240 
Liberators of the Eighth Air Force, 15 
aircraft were lost. 41 

In view of the weak condition of Ger- 
man units east of the Rhine and the 
particular vulnerability of airborne 
troops in and immediately following the 
descent, some overbearing need for the 
special capability of airborne divisions 
would be required to justify* their use. 
Although the objectives assigned the di- 
visions were legitimate, they were objec- 
tives that ground troops alone under 
existing circumstances should have been 
able to take without undue difficulty and 
probably with considerably fewer casual- 
ties. Participation by paratroopers and 
glidermen gave appreciably no more 
depth to the bridgehead at Wesel than 
that achieved by infantrymen of the 30th 
Division. Nor did the airborne attack 
speed bridge construction (as the XVIII 
Airborne Corps commander subse- 
quently claimed), 42 for not until 0915 
the next day, 25 March, did engineers 
start work on bridges at Wesel. A tread- 
way bridge had been opened to traffic 
behind the 30th Division seventeen 
hours before that. 

At the End of D-Day 

As night fell on 24 March, only on 
the extreme left of the forces involved in 
the 2 1 Army Group's Rhine crossing was 
there concern for Allied success. There, 
near Rees, twelve British and Canadian 
battalions supported by thirty DD tanks 

a Statistics on glider and aircraft losses vary 
slightly. See Eisenhower, Report, p. 100; Mont- 
gomery, Normandy to the Baltic, p. 257; Brereton, 
The Brereton Diaries, pp. 406-07; and Warren, Air- 
borne Operations in World War II, pp. 228-29. 

" XVIII Airborne Corps, Operation Varsity. 



had crossed the river. Contingents of the 
yth Parachute Division of General 
Meindl's II Parachute Corps still held 
onto high ground commanding the cross- 
ing sites, thereby preventing bridge 
construction and hindering all reinforce- 
ment. German paratroopers also clung 
tenaciously to a town northwest of Rees, 
cutting off and surrounding small groups 
of British troops that had gotten into 
the buildings. It would be well into the 
morning of the 25th before a relief force 
of Canadian infantry could set the situa- 
tion right. 

Despite this tenacity, the condition of 
the // Parachute Corps at nightfall on 24 
March actually was precarious. The col- 
lapse of the 84th Division of the neigh- 
boring LXXXVI Corps under the 
impact of the Allied airborne attack ex- 
posed the left flank of the corps. When 
the counterattack by the 15 th Panzer 
Grenadier Division failed to shake the 
British around Rees, General Meindl 
would have no choice but to pull back 
the paratroopers forming his left wing 
along the Rhine and face them to the 
east. The German situation at Rees, 
Meindl concluded, was "hopeless." 43 

The Germans thus faced likely dis- 
aster at three points: Rees, Wesel, and 
south of the Lippe River where the U.S. 
XVI Corps was close to a clean break- 
through. All that was available to ward 
off all three threats was the XLVII Pan- 
zer Corps with its lone remaining unit, 
the 116th Panzer Division. Although the 
Army Group H commander, General 
Blaskowitz, earlier had considered using 
the panzer corps to oppose any Allied 
airborne attack, he believed now that 
the greatest danger, despite the psycho- 

°MS # B-674 (Meindl); MS # B-198 (Leutt- 
witz); Stacey, The Victory Campaign, pp. 537-38. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



315 



logical impact of the airborne assault, 
was posed by the Americans south of the 
Lippe. Already, early in the day, in a 
local measure the commander of the 
LXIII Corps, General Abraham, had or- 
dered his 2d Parachute Division on his 
south wing, untouched by the American 
crossings, to move against the U.S. 79th 
Division. At 1400, Blaskowitz released 
the XLVII Panzer Corps from army 
group reserve and ordered the com- 
mander, General von Luettwitz, to send 
the 116th Panzer Division south of the 
Lippe to halt the U.S. 30th Division. 44 
Located near the Dutch-German 
border, the 116th Panzer Division would 
have to make a long, circuitous march to 
avoid the area of Allied airborne land- 
ings. This meant that additional fuel 
would have to be found before the di- 
vision could depart; it meant also, in 
view of Allied fighter-bombers, a move 
by night. To General Luettwitz it was 
apparent that the main body of the pan- 
zer division could get started only after 
nightfall the next day, 25 March. Would 
this be in time to stop a breakout from 
the American bridgehead? 

The Try for a Breakout 

On 25 March the idea of breakout was 
strong in the mind of the 30th Division 
commander, General Hobbs. Delaying 
the morning's attack to allow the last of 
his divisional artillery to take position 
east of the Rhine, Hobbs at 0900 sent 
two regiments two miles to the east to 
seize high ground marked by an incom- 
plete section of autobahn. When little 
opposition developed except dispirited 
remnants of the 180th Infantry Division, 

41 MS # B-198 (Luettwitz); 79th Division combat 
interviews. 



he ordered both regiments to form mo- 
bile task forces built around an attached 
tank destroyer battalion and two tank 
battalions and strike for deep objectives. 
A task force from the 117th Infantry on 
the left was to drive nine miles to 
Dorsten, a road and rail center on the 
south bank of the Lippe-Seiten Canal; 
another from the 120th Infantry was to 
seize Kirchhellen, six miles to the east 
on a main highway leading from Dorsten 
into the Ruhr. 

Although General Hobbs had in mind 
sharp, rapid thrusts designed to shake 
loose from the opposition and break into 
the clear, he was reckoning without the 
problems of terrain and limited roadnet 
the two task forces would encounter. For 
approximately five miles the attacking 
columns would have to pass through 
dense stretches of woods crossed only by 
narrow dirt roads and trails. In that kind 
of country a few strategically placed road- 
blocks manned by a handful of resolute 
defenders could impose telling delays. 

Slowed by the inevitable problems of 
assembling diverse units, the first of the 
task forces, that of the 120th Infantry, 
began to attack only at 1600. Almost 
from the outset the tankers and infantry- 
men had to fight for every little gain. 
The Germans suffered — they lost four 
half-tracks armed with multiple-barrel 
20-mm. antiaircraft guns, two 75-mm. 
guns, three 105-mm. pieces, and several 
motor vehicles, including an ammuni- 
tion truck that caught fire and set a patch 
of the forest ablaze — but they imposed 
the delay they wanted. Night was falling 
when interrogation of prisoners revealed 
the story: the task force was no longer 
fighting Volkssturm nor even disconso- 
late survivors of the 180th Division; the 
prisoners were from the 60th Panzer 



316 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



Grenadier Regiment, 116th Panzer Di- 
vision. 

The 117th Infantry's task force, de- 
layed when trucks hauling the infantry 
bogged down on trails churned to mud 
by tank treads, had not even reached 
its line of departure when word came of 
the portentous prisoner identifications. 
The news was not to be taken lightly, for 
men of the 30th Division had learned 
respect for the 116th Panzer Division 
long ago in the hedgerows of Normandy. 
Not until well after dark did the division 
commander, General Hobbs, decide to 
proceed with the attack; and the objec- 
tive he assigned for the night was de- 
signed merely to bring the second task 
force abreast of the positions gained by 
the first. When the men dug in shortly 
after midnight, they were still seven 
miles short of Dorsten, those of the other 
task force still more than four miles from 
Kirchhellen. Furthermore, before day- 
light another battalion of the 117th In- 
fantry, providing flank protection for the 
task forces by attacking the town of 
Huenxe on the Lippe-Seiten Canal, 
brought in a new batch of prisoners. 
These, it turned out, were from the pan- 
zer division's second grenadier regiment. 

Although the evidence pointed to im- 
pending commitment of the entire 116th 
Panzer Division, General Hobbs deter- 
mined to try again for his breakout be- 
fore the enemy armor could make its 
full weight felt. Since the mission of the 
79th Division was to wheel south and 
southeast to the Rhein-Herne Canal to 
block toward the Ruhr industrial area, 
all hope of early breakout rested with 
the 30th Division. Merely to accomplish 
the relatively limited flank protection 
mission was causing the 7gth some diffi- 
culty; during the day, arrival of rein- 



forcements from the 2d Parachute Di- 
vision, albeit a depleted force, had 
introduced a touch of serious combat. 
Although a regiment of the 35th Division 
(General Baade) had entered the line 
during the day between the 79th and 
30th Divisions, presaging arrival of the 
rest of the division the next day, the 35th 
Division too was scheduled to peel off to 
the southeast to block toward the Ruhr. 

The 30th Division on the third day, 
26 March, made some impressive gains, 
despite continuing problems with nar- 
row, muddy forest trails and despite an 
enemy bearing no resemblance to the 
one who first had opposed the Rhine 
crossing. One battalion of the 119th' In- 
fantry reached Gahlen, another canal 
town midway between Huenxe and 
Dorsten, but there became so involved in 
a fight that a second battalion had to 
come to its aid. The 117th Infantry 
reached open ground just over three and 
and a half miles from Dorsten but had 
trouble holding the position because of 
fire from tanks in a nearby town and 
woodlot and from 128-mm. antiaircraft 
guns emplaced in concrete near an air- 
field. 

The 120th Infantry had the roughest 
going of all at first, but in the end 
crowned the day with a strikingly suc- 
cessful maneuver. Continuing through 
the woods toward Kirchhellen, the regi- 
ment's 2d Battalion lirst had to disperse 
a counterattack by a company of the 
116th Panzer Division'?, grenadiers sup- 
ported by five tanks. From that point it 
was a slow, yard-by-yard advance until 
just before nightfall when the men 
reached the edge of the woods to look 
down on the airfield from which antiair- 
craft guns were harassing the neighbor- 
ing 1 17th Infantry. Waiting for darkness, 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



317 



the regimental commander, Colonel Pur- 
due, committed a fresh battalion. As 
soon as preliminary artillery fire began 
to fall the assault companies rushed for- 
ward, vacating the foxholes at the line of 
departure, while the reserve company 
remained well back of the line. When the 
enemy's counterbarrage began, it fell on 
empty foxholes. The assault companies 
dashed downhill to clear the airfield in 
less than an hour. Not a man was lost. 

These were impressive gains, but they 
were not breakout. By nightfall of 26 
March the enemy's 116th Panzer Di- 
vision had clearly thwarted immediate 
breakout and, though incapable of de- 
cisive counterattack, was strong enough 
to hold an attacker to limited gains. Only 
a small advance guard of the panzer di- 
vision had been on hand to cause trouble 
for the 120th Infantry the night of 25 
March, but the bulk of the division's 
infantry and some tanks had arrived by 
daylight of the 26th. The remainder of 
the division entered the line that eve- 
ning, whereupon responsibility for the 
sector south of the Lippe passed to the 
XL VII Panzer Corps. With the responsi- 
bility came a second divisional unit, the 
190th Infantry Division, rushed from the 
Netherlands to take up positions south of 
the panzer division. It was a makeshift 
division equipped with little heavy fire 
support, including only one artillery bat- 
talion and few antitank weapons. 45 

Faced with this situation, the 30th Di- 
vision's General Hobbs would have been 
content with more leisurely attacks that 
would afford his tired infantry battalions 
a chance to rest, but pressure for break- 
out had begun to build from the Ninth 



Army commander, General Simpson. Be- 
hind the lines, Simpson held not only 
two more divisions belonging to General 
Anderson's XVI Corps but also the en- 
tire XIX Corps and, potentially, the 
XIII Corps, with no place to commit 
them. Late on the 26th General Ander- 
son ordered the 8th Armored Division to 
move through Hobbs's infantry in search 
of the maneuver room the Ninth Army 
needed. 46 

How To Bring the Ninth Army's Power 
To Bear 

The inability of the 30th Division to 
break into the open was but one aspect 
of the problem facing the Ninth Army, 
the decision to commit the 8 th Armored 
Division but one possibility for solving 
it. The core of the problem lay in the 
way operations had developed in the 
British bridgehead and its effect on use 
of bridges at Wesel and on maneuver 
room to be made available to the Ninth 
Army north of the Lippe River and canal 
complex. 

Pressed back to the north and the 
northwest, the paratroopers of Meindl's 
77 Parachute Corps, reinforced by the 
15th Panzer Grenadier Division, sharply 
restricted British and Canadian gains 
and by their opposition also slowed 
bridge construction near Xanten and 
Rees. In the British sector, by nightfall 
of 26 March, only the XVIII Airborne 
Corps, driving eastward along the north 
bank of the Lippe, had made progress 
comparable to that of the American 
troops to the south. 

Lacking adequate bridges downstream, 



"MS # B-198 (Luettwitz). 



30th Div G-3 Jnl file, 26-28 Mar 45. 



318 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



the British transferred the bulk of their 
cross-river traffic to Wesel, where a tread- 
way bridge and a 25-ton ponton bridge 
had been completed by Ninth Army en- 
gineers and where a floating Bailey 
bridge was nearing completion. Al- 
though the Ninth Army had running 
rights on these bridges for five out of 
each twenty-four hours, the time was 
insufficient for a major build-up; and 
once beyond the Rhine at Wesel, there 
was no place to go. Under Field Marshal 
Montgomery's plan of operations, the 
XVIII Airborne Corps was to sideslip 
to the north to make room for the Ninth 
Army's XIX Corps, but because of lack 
of progress by British units to the north- 
east, the airborne troops could not yet 
make the shift. 

To the Ninth Army's General Simpson 
it was frustrating to have to fight 
doggedly forward in frontal attacks 
against opposition that could be dealt 
with summarily if only he could bring 
additional power to bear. Ninth Army 
engineers had by this time put in enough 
bridges — one 25-ton ponton and three 
treadway bridges were carrying traffic 
and two floating Bailey bridges were al- 
most finished — to support considerably 
larger forces than the three infantry di- 
visions already in the XVI Corps bridge- 
head, but so constricted was the 
bridgehead — eleven miles wide and no- 
where more than thirteen miles deep — 
that to commit even the 8th Armored 
Division was to invite congestion. Nor 
was there any possibility for maneuver 
unless the armored division could 
achieve a really deep penetration. 

The makeshift solution General Simp- 
son proposed, as revealed to his as- 
sembled corps commanders during the 
afternoon of 27 March, was to take the 



risk of overcrowding and concentrate the 
XIX Corps in the bridgehead. Once 
bridges could be built over the Lippe 
the XIX Corps was to cross, thereby by- 
passing the bottleneck of Wesel, and 
launch a drive alongside the XVIII Air- 
borne Corps to cut in behind those Ger- 
mans holding up the 30th Division. 

Attending the meeting at Simpson's 
request, the XVIII Airborne Corps com- 
mander, General Ridgway, promptly dis- 
couraged the plan. While acknowledging 
that to avoid Wesel would be helpful, 
Ridgway still doubted that the crowded 
roads north of the Lippe could yet sup- 
port any contingent of the Ninth Army. 
He held out hope nevertheless that if' the 
XVIII Airborne Corps continued to ad- 
vance at its current pace for about two 
more days, there then might be room for 
some portion of the Ninth Army. 

In the end, General Simpson deferred 
a decision while couching an appeal in 
strong terms to the Second British Army 
commander, General Dempsey, and to 
Field Marshal Montgomery for exclu- 
sive use at the earliest possible date of 
the Wesel bridges and the main highway 
leading east out of Wesel along the north 
bank of the Lippe. If he could have these 
facilities, Simpson said, he could utilize 
both the XIX Corps and the XIII 
Corps. 47 

That commitment of the 8th Armored 
Division (General Devine) in quest of a 
breakthrough south of the Lippe was no 
solution to Simpson's problem was dem- 
onstrated early on 28 March. Although 
the fatigued infantrymen of the 30th Di- 
vision had fought through the night of 
the 26th and the day of the 27th to open 



"The account of the meeting is from Conquer: 
The Story of the Ninth Army, pp. 260-61. 



THE RHINE CROSSINGS IN THE NORTH 



319 



a route for the armor, they failed to do 
more than dent the positions of the 
enemy's 116th Panzer Division. Dense 
forest and poor roads, when combined 
with determined resistance from German 
tanks and antiaircraft guns, prevented 
the armor from gaining more than three 
miles. When the fighting died down with 
the coming of night on 28 March, the 
Germans still held Dorsten. Prospects of 
a breakout faded. 

It was a different story north of the 
Lippe. There, in fulfillment of the 
promise foreseen by General Ridgway, 
paratroopers of the 17th Airborne Di- 
vision's 513th Parachute Infantry in mid- 
afternoon of 28 March mounted 
Churchill tanks of the British 6th Guards 
Armoured Brigade. 48 With scarcely a 
pause, they raced seventeen miles beyond 
Dorsten. As the commander of the 
enemy's XLVII Panzer Corps, General 
Luettwitz, was quick to note, the spectac- 
ular advance outflanked the positions of 
his corps, including those of the 116th 
Panzer Division.* 6 

On this same date, 28 March, Field 
Marshal Montgomery issued a new direc- 
tive to govern operations across the north 
German plain to the Elbe River, deep 
inside Germany. In the process, he 
spelled out a new policy for use of the 
Rhine bridges at Wesel and provided an 



a Culminating a series of gallant acts, T. Sgt. 
Clinton M. Hedrick, 194th Glider Infantry, entered 
a castle at Lembeck, seven miles north of Dorsten, 
on 28 March to accept surrender of the German 
garrison. The Germans instead opened fire with a 
self-propelled gun. Mortally wounded, Sergeant 
Hedrick rained such a fire on the Germans that 
his colleagues were able to escape. He was awarded 
the Medal of Honor posthumously. 

49 MS # B-i98 (Luettwitz). 



expanding corridor for employment of 
portions of the Ninth Army north of the 
Lippe River. Beginning early on the 
morning of 30 March, the routes leading 
east from Wesel were to pass to the Ninth 
Army, thus enabling General Simpson to 
begin moving forces north of the Lippe 
even before gaining full control of the 
Wesel bridges. Those bridges were to 
pass to the Ninth Army early the next 
morning, 31 March, though with run- 
ning rights to the British for five hours 
out of each twenty-four. 

Operation Plunder was over. Four 
Allied armies were across the last great 
barrier to the heartland of Germany and 
had either begun to exploit or were 
poised to begin the last deep thrusts. 
Only the First Canadian Army on the 
north flank and the First French Army 
on the south had yet to establish their 
own bridgeheads. The Canadians already 
were building up through the British 
bridgehead, and the French were pre- 
paring to cross in their own right before 
the month of March was out. 

Whether at this stage of the war elab- 
orate preparation and support on the 
scale marshaled by the 21 Army Group 
was necessary or even justified for forcing 
the Rhine would forever remain conjec- 
ture. The entire production might have 
been avoided, for example, had Mont- 
gomery allowed Simpson's Ninth Army 
to jump the Rhine in a surprise assault 
back in the first week of March. Yet in 
the jubilation of the success that ac- 
companied Operation Plunder, few but 
the most carping critics would continue 
to belabor the point. 

"My dear General," Prime Minister 
Churchill had said to the Supreme Com- 
mander as he watched Allied power un- 
leashed against the Rhine on 24 March, 



320 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



"the German is whipped. We've got him. 
He is all through." 00 

To a man and to a nation that almost 



five long years before had known the 
nadir of Dunkerque, the pyrotechnics of 
23 and 24 March were sweet and just and 
good and right. 



50 Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, p. 390. 



CHAPTER XV 

At the End of March 



"My dear General," telegraphed 
Charles de Gaulle to the commander o£ 
the First French Army on 29 March, 
"you must cross the Rhine, even if the 
Americans do not agree and even if you 
have to cross it in rowboats. It is a matter 
of the greatest national interest." 1 

To de Gaulle, the Allied governments' 
failure yet to designate any portion of 
Germany for occupation by France indi- 
cated an unwillingness to recognize 
French claims. To circumvent any at- 
tempt to freeze out the French, he was 
determined to seize a sector beyond the 
Rhine. 2 

The French field commander, General 
de Lattre, actually was a step ahead of 
his chief of state. Conscious that the 
French had been assigned no frontage 
along the Rhine not covered from the 
east bank by West Wall fortifications 
(the twelve miles obtained earlier north 
of the Lauter River faced an east-bank 
spur of the West Wall designed to pro- 
tect the city of Karlsruhe) , de Lattre two 
days before, on 27 March, had visited 
General Devers at headquarters of the 
6th Army Group. Having noted that the 
American Seventh Army's Rhine crossing 
before daylight on the 26th had occurred 



1 De Lattre, Histoire de la Premiere Armee 
Franfaise, pp. 487-90, Unless otherwise noted, the 
story of the French crossings of the Rhine is from 
this source, pp. 485-99. 

' Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 432. 



at Worms, on the extreme northern edge 
of the Seventh Army's zone, de Lattre 
believed that the Americans would hap- 
pily relinquish part of their zone in order 
to free units for the attack in the north. 
His talk with Devers confirmed it. 

De Lattre left Devers's headquarters 
not only with expanded frontage along 
the Rhine — all the way north to Speyer, 
more than half the distance from Karls- 
ruhe to Mannheim and well beyond the 
spur of the West Wall — but also with 
orders to prepare to cross the Rhine, seize 
Karlsruhe, and drive deep to the south- 
east to take Stuttgart. 3 Yet Devers gave 
him no target date for the crossing. Con- 
cerned lest American columns driving 
south from the Worms bridgehead might 
overrun the French sites before Devers 
approved a crossing date, de Lattre told 
the commander of his II Corps, Maj. 
Gen. A. J. de Monsabert, to begin cross- 
ing before daylight on 31 March. 

After receiving de Gaulle's telegram, 
de Lattre reiterated his order to de 
Monsabert. It was not a question, he said, 
of whether de Monsabert could be ready 
to cross on the 31st, it was a question of 
beating the Americans into the new sec- 
tor beyond the Rhine. French national 
honor was at stake. 

When General Devers on the 30th 
asked when the French could start cross- 

s 6th AGp Ltr of Instrs 12, 27 Mar 45, 6th AGp 
AAR, Mar 45. 



322 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



ing, de Lattre proudly answered that he 
would begin before daylight the next 
morning. Devers promptly approved. 

By 0230 on 31 March, infantrymen of 
the 3d Algerian Division at Speyer had 
found only a single rubber assault boat. 
Undaunted, the Algerians began to 
shuttle silently across the Rhine, ten men 
at a time. Shortly before daybreak when 
they had located four more rubber boats 
to speed the shuttle, the Germans awoke 
to the crossing and began to shell the 
site. The enemy was too late; already an 
entire infantry company was across. Hav- 
ing made even Patton's surprise crossing 
at Oppenheim look like a deliberate, set- 
piece assault, the French were on the east 
bank to stay. 

A few miles upstream at Germersheim, 
a more conventional crossing fared less 
well. Because of confusion at hastily 
chosen embarkation points, the first wave 
of the 2d Moroccan Division pushed into 
the river only after daylight had come 
and the first impact of an artillery prep- 
aration had dissipated. In that wave, only 
three of some twenty storm boats 
equipped with outboard motors survived 
German small arms and mortar fire and 
made it to the east bank. While thirty 
men from the three boats hung on 
grimly, French artillery encased the 
minuscule bridgehead in fire until sub- 
sequent waves, still taking heavy losses, 
could build up. By nightfall the bulk of 
two battalions was across and a foothold 
assured. 

The next day, 1 April — Easter Sunday 
— General Brooks of the neighboring VI 
Corps gave permission for French ve- 
hicles to cross an American bridge at 
Mannheim. Before the day was out, 
French reconnaissance units had pushed 
eighteen miles beyond the Rhine, in the 



process coming upon a column of the 
10th U.S. Armored Division deep within 
the assigned French zone. It was an error 
on the part of the American armor — 
American commanders had entertained 
no idea of depriving the French of their 
opportunity for an assault crossing of 
the Rhine — but to General de Lattre the 
presence of the U.S. unit justified the 
haste of the French crossing. A 24-hour 
delay, he reckoned, would have con- 
demned the French to a passive role in 
the invasion of Germany. 4 

To speed the taking of Karlsruhe, de 
Lattre would make a third Rhine cross- 
ing on 2 April midway between Ger- 
mersheim and Karlsruhe and even' a 
fourth some days later, 5 but the main 
crossings at Germersheim and Speyer in 
effect marked the end of the passage of 
all three Allied army groups to the east 
bank of the Rhine. 

An Awesome Power 

By the end of March the great river 
barrier was a challenge only to bridge- 
building engineers. A tatterdemalion 
German Army on the brink of total de- 
feat lay exposed to a mighty Allied force 
of almost four and a half million men, 
including ninety divisions, twenty-five of 
which were armored, five airborne. 6 As 



1 De Lattre, Histoire de la Premiere Armee 
Francaise, p. 449. See also below, ch. XVIII. 

5 The third crossing was at Leimersheim, the 
fourth at Strasbourg. For details of the fourth 
crossing, see below, ch. XVIII. 

6 Of the divisions, 61 were American, 12 British, 
11 French, 5 Canadian, and 1 Polish. One British 
division would arrive from Italy before V-E Day 
to bring the tofal force under General Eisenhower 
to 91 divisions, plus several independent brigades. 
See SHAEF G-3 War Room Daily Sums, 2 Apr 
and 9 May 45. 



AT THE END OF MARCH 



323 



the multiple drives beyond the Rhine 
began, Montgomery's 21 Army Group 
controlled thirty divisions. Included 
were twelve U.S. divisions in the Ninth 
Army and a new Canadian corps with 
two Canadian divisions and an armored 
brigade. The Canadian corps had arrived 
during the month of March from Italy as 
a result of a decision made at the Malta 
Conference to reinforce British forces 
for the final thrust into Germany. 7 

Bradley's 12th Army Group had thirty- 
four divisions, including six in its new 
army, the Fifteenth, under General 
Gerow. Although the Fifteenth Army 
had become operational in early Jan- 
uary, the headquarters heretofore had 
handled only rear echelon assignments, 
including control of the 66th Infantry 
Division, which was containing German 
holdouts in Brittany ports. The Fifteenth 
Army now was to move forward to as- 
sume a holding mission along the Rhine, 
facing the Ruhr, then later was to relieve 
the other armies of the 12th Army Group 
of occupation duties as they drove deep 
into Germany. 

Devers's 6th Army Group had twelve 
U.S. and eleven French divisions, al- 
though two of the latter were unavail- 
able for the drive beyond the Rhine, 
since one was holding the Alpine front 
facing Italy and another was containing 
Germans along the Gironde estuary in 
southwestern France. The remaining 
three divisions of the total of ninety were 
U.S. airborne divisions under control of 
the First Allied Airborne Army. 

Allied air power, its declining losses 
readily replaceable, remained every- 
where overwhelmingly dominant, men- 



7 Stacey, The Victory Campaign, p. 529; Mont- 
gomery, Normandy to the Baltic, p. 247. 




General Gerow 



aced only occasionally by the sporadic 
activity of German jet fighters. Antiair- 
craft fire from the flak-heavy Ruhr 
noticeably decreased, apparently indi- 
cating German ammunition shortages. 
Continuing a long-range program against 
oil supplies, American strategic bombers 
of the Eighth Air Force during March 
directed 36,000 tons of bombs against 
refineries and storage depots. Communi- 
cations centers, railroads, factories, jet 
aircraft plants, and submarine pens also 
continued to take a pounding. Raids al- 
most always involved more than a thou- 
sand bombers, with losses seldom 
exceeding five aircraft, though on 18 
March, in one of the largest daylight 
raids of the war on Berlin, German jet 
planes shot down 24 bombers and 5 
fighters, while flak damaged more than 



324 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



half the 1,200 bombers, 16 of which had 
to crash-land behind Russian lines. 

Heavies of the Royal Air Force also 
continued their destructive campaign; at 
one point, on 12 March, they established 
a new record for tonnage in a single 
strategic attack by dropping 4,899 tons 
from 1,107 aircraft on Dortmund. Close 
co-ordination was often achieved with 
heavy bombers of the Fifteenth Air Force 
in Italy. Despite occasional bad weather, 
the campaign in the air was so successful 
that by the end of March the strategic 
air forces were almost out of targets. 8 

The big raid on Berlin on 18 March 
was part of a program begun the preced- 
ing month after the Combined Chiefs of 
Staff at Malta decided to send the stra- 
tegic air forces of Britain and the United 
States against major transportation cen- 
ters in eastern Germany through which 
the Germans might funnel reinforce- 
ments for the Russian front. "There was 
also a hope that heavy air raids would 
increase the panic and confusion already 
prevalent in those cities, which were 
thoroughly frightened by the sudden 
Russian advance and full of refugees." 9 

The raids quickly produced charges, 
particularly in the American press, of 
terror bombing. Although American air 
officers pointed out that they were not 
bombing cities indiscriminately but at- 
tacking transportation facilities inside 
the cities, severe criticism would persist 
even into the postwar period. Of particu- 
lar horror was a Royal Air Force raid on 
Dresden the night of 13 February, fol- 
lowed on the next two days by U.S. 
attacks. These raids created a firestorm 
like that which had gutted Hamburg in 



8 Craven and Cate, AAF III, 736-55. 
'Ibid., p. 725. 



1943, and may have caused as many as 
135,000 civilian deaths. 10 

During the first two weeks of April, 
the Luftwaffe would make feeble efforts 
with thin remnants of conventional and 
jet fighter forces but would succeed in 
bringing down only eighteen American 
bombers. At the same time Allied air 
commanders would consider the strategic 
air war at an end. As early as 7 April the 
British would discontinue area strikes 
against German cities, and on 16 April 
the chief of the United States Strategic 
Air Forces in Europe, General Carl 
Spaatz, would declare the strategic air 
war won. The big bombers would still 
make a few raids aimed at rail junctions, 
marshaling yards, or other targets of di- 
rect concern to the ground armies. 11 

The Logistical Backbone 

On the ground, as the prospect of un- 
qualified pursuit warfare loomed, there 
stood behind the awesome power of Al- 
lied armies a logistical establishment 
geared to demands that, had they been 
made during the pursuit across France 
the preceding summer, would have been 
preposterous. For example, no longer did 
the Allied armies have to depend on 
makeshift facilities at the invasion 
beaches or on minor ports far behind the 
fighting lines. Antwerp, one of Europe's 
great ports, lying only a little over a 
hundred miles behind the front, alone 
handled 558,000 tons of supplies in 
March. In the south, Marseille and sub- 



10 This figure is higher than that of the combined 
total of deaths (1 10,000) in the atomic bombings 
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.. Craven and Cate, 
AAF III, 724-31; David Irving, The Destruction of 
Dresden (London: William Kimber, 1963). 

11 Craven and Cate, AAF III, 753-54. 



AT THE END OF MARCH 



325 



sidiary ports handled 575,500 tons in 
March, making the 6th Army Group 
virtually independent of the lines of com- 
munication serving the other Allied 
forces. 12 

While there were occasional delays in 
discharging ships in all the ports, moving 
the supplies to inland depots was the 
major problem, attributable in part to a 
perennial shortage of transportation but 
in the main to an inadequate system of 
depots echeloned in depth. The problem 
would be intensified as the pursuit east 
of the Rhine increased demands for 
transport close behind the front. 

An extensive program of pipeline con- 
struction helped ease the burden on 
transport. By the end of March a line 
from Antwerp was operating as far as 
Wesel on the Rhine, another from Cher- 
bourg as far as Thionville in Lorraine, 
and a third from Marseille almost to the 
Saar River. To relieve congestion on the 
Rhine bridges, pipelines were laid across 
the river at four points soon after the 
crossings, and gasoline delivered by rail- 
way tank cars was pumped across. Three 
of the pipelines were later tied in with 
the main arteries from the ports. At the 
time of the Rhine crossings, gasoline 
stocks in both the Communications Zone 
and the armies themselves were the high- 
est they had ever been. Only in the last 
days of April would deliveries fall short 
of daily consumption, and never would 
gasoline exercise the tyranny over opera- 
tions that it had in France and Belgium 
in 1944. 

Rail reconstruction also proceeded 
swiftly. By the end of March a line was 
open to the Rhine at Wesel and another 



12 The section on logistics is ba sed on Ruppen- 
thal, Logistical Support of the Armies II . 



at Koblenz, while on the 1st of April 
engineers opened another as far as Mainz, 
On 7 April the 1056th Port Construction 
and Repair Group, having worked 
around the clock for ten days, would 
open a 1,753-foot rail bridge over the 
Rhine near Wesel. A second rail bridge 
over the Rhine at Mainz was opened six 
days later and others, at Mannheim and 
Karlsruhe, before the month of April 
was out. All single-tracked, the bridges 
were inevitable bottlenecks; their exist- 
ence nevertheless would enable the rail- 
ways by mid-April to equal the tonnage 
carried beyond the Rhine by truck trans- 
port and by the end of the war to handle 
three-fourths of the total tonnage. This 
record was accomplished despite short- 
ages of locomotives and rolling stock and 
frustrating delays in unloading freight 
cars at their destinations. 

Taking a cue from the Red Ball Ex- 
press truck route that had sped highway 
traffic behind the armies the preceding 
year, the Transportation Corps in Janu- 
ary had inaugurated an express rail serv- 
ice for high priority freight. A train of 
twenty cars, labeled the "Toot Sweet 
Express" (a play on the French phrase 
tout de suite) , left Cherbourg each day, 
picked up additional cars and split into 
two sections at Paris, then ran to Verdun 
and Namur and later as far as Bad Kreuz- 
nach and Liege. Beginning in March a 
similar service, originating in Liege, de- 
livered perishable foods to railheads close 
behind the First and Ninth Armies — the 
"Meat Ball Express." 

Motor transport meanwhile increased 
to an unprecedented tempo. In contrast 
to the improvisation of the Red Ball and 
other express routes the preceding sum- 
mer, the Communications Zone had pre- 
pared detailed plans to marshal three- 



326 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




fourths of the motor transport under its 
control for direct support of the pursuit 
beyond the Rhine. Under a three-phase 
plan called "XYZ," more than 4,000 
trucks, most of them either 10-ton trac- 
tor-semitrailer combinations or 10-ton 
diesels, eventually were to deliver up to 
15,000 tons a day to forward depots. 
Trucks received detailed maintenance 
before every run, and some of the con- 
voys carried their own mechanics and 
packets of most commonly needed spare 
parts. On one route serving the Seventh 
Army, drivers could pause at rest stops 
called "GI Diners," where they might ex- 



change cold rations for hot. In addition 
to these trucks, the armies themselves 
had about forty truck companies each, 
supplemented by provisional companies 
made up of the organic transportation 
from field artillery and antiaircraft units. 

Building roads and bridges occupied 
thousands of engineers, whose numbers 
were augmented by civilians and prison- 
ers of war and sometimes by men from 
uncommitted combat units. Engineers 
assigned to the armies did most of the 
work, constructing, for example, 52 of 
the 57 highway bridges built over the 
Rhine. Just over half of the bridges were 



AT THE END OF MARCH 



327 




Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Bridge at Mainz. Construction proceeded 
day and night. 



fixed wooden pile; of a 6 tread way and 
heavy ponton bridges, most would be 
phased out by early May. 

Air transport also contributed far 
more than it had the preceding summer, 
both because airfields were plentiful and 
because few planes were withdrawn for 
airborne training or operations. During 
the second week of April, more than 
6,200 sorties were flown — a peak — and 
more than 15,000 tons of supplies (most- 
ly gasoline) set down on forward fields. 
On return flights the big transport craft 
evacuated casualties or liberated prison- 



ers of war. During April approximately 
40,000 casualties were removed from the 
combat zone by air, and in the closing 
days of the war one sky train after an- 
other carried Recovered Allied Military 
Personnel (RAMPS) westward. The 
Third Army alone evacuated 135,000 
men in the last month by air. 

All these efforts added up to a sup- 
ply situation in which the Communi- 
cations Zone and the support services in 
the armies could take justifiable pride, 
and this done with a theaterwide division 
slice of only about 26,000 men, a figure 



328 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Ponton Bridge Across the Rhine Serving Seventh Army 



usually considered minimal. Some short- 
ages persisted, particularly in spare parts 
for vehicles and weapons, and forward 
supply officers were sometimes reduced 
to nervous fretting and fuming, but 
minor shortages were fairly characteristic 
of supply in a highly mobile situation 
and rarely affected operations. Although 
fewer combat losses of tanks, vehicles, 
and equipment and reduced expenditure 
of ammunition — both features of pursuit 
warfare — helped, the credit in general 
belonged to a sound logistical apparatus 
expertly administered. The infantryman 
or the tanker might complain of a mo- 



notonous diet of emergency rations, but 
so fast was he moving that he would 
have had little time for more substantial 
fare in any case. What was more impor- 
tant, he always ate, and many a time he 
could relieve the monotony with "liber- 
ated" eggs or other produce from a farm- 
yard. 

Decisions at the Top 

Meanwhile, a variety of decisions had 
been or were being made at both theater 
and intergovernmental levels that, while 
not affecting the actual conduct of tacti- 
cal operations, nevertheless produced an 



AT THE END OF MARCH 



329 





" *». -• 




Liberated Prisoners of War waiting to board C-47 transport planes. 



impact on the armies and the fighting 
men in them. These decisions ranged 
from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 
"unconditional surrender" formula, 
enunciated long months before at the 
Casablanca Conference, to a so-called 
nonfraternization policy and SHAEF's 
definition of the difference between loot 
and legitimate booty, almost as difficult 
as the nonfraternization policy to admin- 
ister. 

The policy of unconditional surren- 
der, some thought at the time and after, 
prolonged the war because it afforded 



the Germans no out. In view of the con- 
trol over the armed forces and the popu- 
lace exercised by the Nazi apparatus and 
of clarifying statements issued from time 
to time by the Allied governments, the 
opinion would appear to be more specu- 
lative than conclusive. It clearly was no 
barrier to the surrender of German 
soldiers, individually or sometimes en 
masse, nor to the nation as a whole when 
the Hitler mystique ceased to exist. More 
likely it was, as Winston Churchill, 
among others, once put it, that the Ger- 
man people continued to fight not out 



330 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



of fear of Allied victory but out of fear 
of conquest by the Soviet Army. 13 

Imposed at the intergovernmental 
level, the nonfraternization policy had 
been proclaimed the previous Septem- 
ber, the day after the first American 
patrols crossed the German frontier, but 
only with the rapid sweep through the 
Rhineland had it come to affect more 
than a few U.S. units. Under the terms 
of General Eisenhower's directive, all 
fraternization with the German popula- 
tion was forbidden. There was to be no 
"mingling with Germans upon terms of 
friendliness, familiarity, or intimacy, in- 
dividually or in groups in official or un- 
official dealings." 14 It was, in the words 
of an official British historian, an attempt 
"to send the whole German people to 
Coventry largely in order to express dis- 
gust for the bestialities of Nazism." 15 

The policy soon broke down, perhaps 
inevitably, though it would remain offi- 
cially in force for several months after 
the fighting ended. Given the generally 
friendly disposition of the young, healthy 
American — and Allied — soldier, strict 
enforcement of such a rule, particularly 
in regard to children and women, proved 
impossible. 18 Nor was it practical when 



13 For a detailed discussion of the subject as it 
related to SHAEF, see Pogue, The Supreme Com- 
mand, pp. 339-43. 

14 Ltr, SHAEF, 12 Sep 44, sub: Policy, Relation- 
ship Between Allied Occupation Troops and In- 
habitants of Germany. 

15 F. S. V. Donnison, C.B.E., Civil Affairs and 
Military Government, North-West Europe 1944- 
1946 (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 
1961), p. 374. 

16 Oliver J. Fredericksen, The American Military 
Occupation of Germany 1945-1953 (Germany: The 
Stars and Stripes, 1953), for the Historical Division, 
Headquarters, U.S. Army, Europe; Historical Di- 
vision, European Command, Fraternization with 
the Germans in World War II, in a multivolume 
MS series, Occupation Forces in Europe, 1945-46. 



seeking to govern a conquered popula- 
tion by indirect means to carry out pro- 
hibitions against soldiers accompanying 
Germans in the street, conversing with 
them in public, or even shaking hands 
with them. Few Germans could have 
been unaware of the policy, but when it 
was enforced it probably caused more re- 
sentment than remorse. 

The nonfraternization program may 
have served other objectives — security 
and protecting the lives of individual Al- 
lied soldiers, though the German popula- 
tion in any case provoked few major 
incidents. While some civilians on occa- 
sion took up arms beside their soldiers 
and in isolated instances sniped or en- 
gaged in other acts of violence against 
individual soldiers, the people for the 
most part were "passive, lethargic, nega- 
tive, disciplined, docile, deferential, co- 
operative, obedient." 17 They hung out 
white sheets from upper windows of their 
homes as the troops approached, then in 
general conformed to the dictates of the 
tactical commanders and later of the mil- 
itary government officials. German chil- 
dren quickly learned the trade that had 
long been an art in the liberated coun- 
tries of begging for chewing gum and 
candy, and "frauleins" reacted to the 
shouts from passing columns — "schlafen 
mitf" either with haughty disdain or with 
a European woman's sly appreciation at 
masculine approval. There was one nota- 
ble exception. The night of 24 March 
Nazis or Nazi sympathizers murdered the 
man appointed by the Allies to be burgo- 
master of Aachen. 

On the first of April, Hitler issued a 



17 Historical Division, European Command, Op- 
erations From Late March to Mid- July 1945, in a 
multivolume MS series, United States Military Gov- 
ernment in Germany, p. go. 



AT THE END OF MARCH 



331 



proclamation calling on all Germans to 
become "werewolves" to prey on Allied 
troops, Jews, and those Germans who co- 
operated with Allied forces. 18 Some inci- 
dents involving German youth could be 
traced to this appeal, but it attracted no 
broad support. The mass of the people 
continued to react with resigned relief 
that the war was nearing an end. 

More a problem to security and disci- 
pline was the presence in Germany of 
several million displaced persons, usu- 
ally impressed workers from countries 
earlier conquered by the Germans. Only 
some 50,000 of these were encountered in 
the Rhineland; but before the sweep 
across Germany was over, the American 
armies alone had liberated more than 
2,300,000 displaced persons. 19 The ex- 
uberance of these people upon liberation 
and sometimes their desire to wreak im- 
mediate vengeance on their oppressors 
led on occasion to violent, tragic excesses, 
which the soldiers were reluctant to deal 
with. 20 That they did not fall under the 
nonfraternization policy contributed to 
the problem. Many a case of venereal dis- 
ease incurred by an Allied soldier could 
be traced to a cantonment for displaced 
persons. Looting by these people, some- 
times in organized bands, continued to 
be a problem until well after the Ger- 
man surrender when repatriation at last 
reduced their numbers to more manage- 
able proportions. All armies had to de- 
tail at least small service and tactical 
units to assist military government offi- 
cials with displaced persons, and the 



18 For a summary of the proclamation, see XIII 
Corps G—s Periodic Rpt 146, 3 Apr 45. 

18 Fredericksen, The A merican Military Occupa- 
tion, p. 73. 

40 See, for example, Toland, The Last 100 Days, 
pp. 443-46. 



Ninth Army in mid-April assigned one 
division and later the entire XVI Corps 
to military government duties. 

Looting by American soldiers was also 
a problem. To many a soldier this nation 
that had plunged the world into war 
seemed fair game. The plundering 
ranged from simple pilferage — appropri- 
ating china or glassware as a substitute 
for mess kits or taking some trinket as a 
souvenir (as likely as not to be discarded 
another day when something more ap- 
pealing caught the eye) — to outright 
theft of objects of genuine value. Entire 
sets of silver and fine china, typewriters, 
cameras, or valuable objets d'art were 
packaged and sent home by way of the- 
Army postal service. How much of this 
went on depended in large measure at 
first on the attitude of company, battal- 
ion, and regimental commanders; but 
the practice became so widespread that 
General Eisenhower's headquarters at- 
tempted to set up strict rules as to what 
constituted legitimate booty. 

Under terms of Eisenhower's direc- 
tive, issued in April, the only booty that 
might be mailed home consisted of ob- 
jects that were Nazi in origin — Nazi 
flags, armbands with swastika emblems, 
batons encrested with Nazi symbols — or 
those belonging to the German armed 
forces — uniforms, rifles, or other items 
found in military installations. A set of 
china, for example, might be legitimate 
booty if found in a German officers' 
mess. Before a package could be mailed, 
it had to bear an affidavit from an officer 
of the soldier's unit attesting to its legiti- 
macy. 

While the system sharply curtailed 
looting, it did nothing to ameliorate an 
old dispute over booty that long had 
raged between men in combat units and 



332 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



those in support and service echelons. 
Combat soldiers complained that they 
moved too fast and had to travel too light 
to have any opportunity for mailing 
booty home, while soldiers behind the 
front protested that the combat troops 
had purloined the valuable prizes before 
others could get to them. Except for 
pistols (Lugers and P-38 Walthers, par- 
ticularly, were premium prizes) , which 
were more readily come upon by the in- 
fantryman or tank crewman, one argu- 
ment probably canceled out the other. 

Wine and schnapps in reasonable 
amounts continued to be ready prizes 
for anybody wherever found. They could 
be made to disappear, with not unpleas- 
ant results, before any overly conscien- 
tious investigating officer could check to 
see where they came from. German ve- 
hicles also continued to find their way 
into American hands, though some divi- 
sion commanders prohibited them or 
else insisted on rigid inspection of their 
serviceability lest they delay the col- 
umns. And there were few platoons that 
did not soon have a handsome civilian 
radio set, one that might be "traded up" 
as new towns were taken. 

To locate and then prevent looting 
and destruction of important industrial 
facilities, research establishments, banks, 
museums, galleries, and German rec- 
ords, each Allied army carried special 
intelligence teams. In American armies, 
these included teams from the technical 
services, plus special groups known as 
"T-forces" designated to search for items 
of scientific value. The latter were espe- 
cially alert for materials related to Ger- 
man research in rockets, which had led 
to the second of Hitler's V-weapons, the 
V-2 supersonic rocket that had begun to 
bombard England the preceding Sep- 



tember. Another special force known as 
the Alsos mission, seeking information 
on German developments in nuclear fis- 
sion, had determined the preceding No- 
vember from German scientists and 
documents taken in Strasbourg that the 
Germans still were a long way from pro- 
ducing an atomic bomb. 21 

As with looting, some American sol- 
diers achieved personal gain in black 
market currency. Although the official 
exchange for all Allied troops was the 
Allied military mark, soldiers presum- 
ably could get regular German marks in 
legitimate dealings as change (though 
how this was possible under the non- 
fraternization policy, no one bothered 
to explain) , and finance officers even 
made some official disbursements in 
German marks. Thus there was at first 
no regulation prohibiting a soldier from 
exchanging German marks for military 
marks of or below the 100-mark denomi- 
nation (the largest bill disbursed in 
military marks) or from transmitting 
these or large amounts of military marks 
to his credit back home. 

Only after it became obvious that 
black market dealings were imposing a 
heavy drain both on Army funds and on 
goods — food, cigarettes, PX rations, and 
other items — did the European theater's 
fiscal director, in April, order finance 
officers neither to receive nor to disburse 
German marks. By that time substantial 
amounts of Allied military marks had 
found their way into the economy, and 
this move alone would be insufficient to 
eliminate the black market. 



21 Boris T. Pash, The Alsos Mission (New York: 
Award House, 1969); Samuel A. Goudsmit, ALSOS 
(New York: William Morrow & Co., 1964); Con- 
quer; The Story of the Ninth Army, pp. 284-85. 



AT THE END OF MARCH 



333 



Although another regulation prohib- 
ited a soldier from transmitting to the 
United States more than his normal pay 
and allowances unless the excess was cer- 
tified by his personnel officer as legiti- 
mately obtained, that too would not halt 
all dealings. Since gambling was al- 
lowed, what personnel officer could 
question, unless the sum to be trans- 
mitted were extraordinarily high, that 
it came from lucky dice? The problem 
remained to be settled after the end of 
the fighting, and then only after the 
Russians had flooded the economy with 
Allied military marks, making the situa- 
tion worse. 22 

The more serious crimes — desertion, 
misbehavior before the enemy, murder, 
rape, and assault with inteht to commit 
rape — sharply increased in March and 
would continue to do so through the 
rapid drive across Germany. The up- 
swing in cases of rape was particularly 
marked; 32 men were brought to trial 
in January and February, 128 in March, 
and 259 in April. The pattern dupli- 
cated the experience of the previous 
year during the race across France. In 
great measure it could be attributed to 
the larger number of troops in Ger- 
many, to lessened control and supervi- 
sion by officers in mobile warfare, and 
possibly to the soldier's knowledge that 
he would be moving on rapidly and thus 
was less likely to be apprehended for 
the crime. Then too, the soldiers came 
as arms-bearing conquerors of a popula- 
tion that long had been propagandized 
to believe that Allied troops would rape, 



"Walter Rundell, Jr., Black Market Money 
(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 
1964), provides an authoritative account of these 
activities, based on official Army records. 



pillage, and kill. Although many Ameri- 
cans suspected that crying rape was a 
German woman's way of getting back at 
the conqueror and although some sol- 
diers undoubtedly interpreted lack of 
resistance as seduction, the military 
courts generally held that even where 
physical force was not proved, the vic- 
tim had submitted through fear. 23 

Although any incidence of crimes of 
violence or misbehavior before the ene- 
my was serious, the total for the entire 
war in Europe represented only .53 of 1 
percent of the total number of Ameri- 
cans who served in the theater. Seventy 
soldiers were executed, one for deser- 
tion, the others for murder, rape, or 
rape associated with murder. 24 

As March came to an end, the war 
was in many ways unrecognizable as the 
same war of those grim days of frozen, 
snow-drenched foxholes and yard-by- 
yard advances along the German fron- 
tier. Spring was finally more than a 
promise, while more often than not, the 
war revolved about villages, towns, or 
cities, so that most men had a roof over 
their heads at night. Companies vied 
with battalion and regimental headquar- 
ters for a town's choicest villa for a com- 
mand post, whereupon interpreters 
might dispatch the inhabitants with an 
unceremonious "Alle Einwohner, 
'raus!" Sometimes electricity and water 
still functioned, and many a grimy in- 
fantryman luxuriated in a tub of hot, 
soapy water while his comrades impa- 



a Fraternization with the Germans in World War 
II, pp. 80-82. 

24 Office of the Judge Advocate General, U.S. 
Forces, European Theater, History Branch Office 
of the Judge Advocate General With the United 
States Forces European Theater 18 July 1948-1 
November 1945, MS in OCMH. 



334 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



tiently awaited their turn. Farther to 
the rear, units had time to renovate 
shower facilities in clubs, schools, or fac- 
tories. Short passes to Paris or the Rivi- 
era, begun the preceding fall, continued 
for a fortunate few, while for a magic 
smattering, those longest in combat, 
there was leave in the United States that 
would not end before the war did. 

As in the old days, copies of the sol- 
dier newspaper, Stars & Stripes, and the 
weekly magazine, Yank, continued to 
reach the front, though often several 
days late, along with pocket-sized edi- 
tions of U.S. magazines and paperback 
books. Blue-uniformed American girls 
who had smiled their way indefatigably 
through Britain, France, and Belgium, 
continued to dispense doughnuts and 
coffee from Red Cross clubmobiles. Re- 
flecting the improvement in the logis- 
tical situation over the preceding sum- 
mer, the supply of cigarettes — still is- 
sued free to front-line soldiers — was 
usually ample, though other post ex- 
change rations reaching the combat 
troops were meager. The combat soldier 
would continue to complain, not with- 
out considerable justification, that suc- 
cessive echelons to the rear shortstopped 
the choicer items. 

Some higher staff levels were already 
planning for redeployment to the United 
States or to the Pacific theater, while 
others continued to work on plans to be 
used in the event of German surrender. 
Begun before D-day in France and orig- 
inally given the code name Talisman, 
these plans now were known, following 
a presumed compromise of security, as 
Operation Eclipse. Constantly altered 
and adjusted, the plans at first had been 
oriented toward the possibility of sud- 
den German collapse, but more and 



more as the final campaign unfolded, 
they evolved primarily into guidelines 
for the occupation. While some dramatic 
features, such as a possible air-landing 
in Berlin, remained to the end, Eclipse 
dealt mainly with more prosaic matters 
such as armistice terms, disarmament, 
displaced persons, prisoners of war, and 
German courts. 25 In conformity with 
the nature of the advance into Germany 
and the likelihood that final surrender 
would come only after the entire coun- 
try was occupied, SHAEF decreed in Ap- 
ril that no formal transition to Eclipse 
was to take place, but that Eclipse con- 
ditions were presumed to be in effect- in 
those areas progressively overrun. 

Another factor no longer disturbing 
the staffs and commanders was a formerly 
critical shortage of infantry replace- 
ments, or reinforcements, as by decree 
for morale purposes they had come to be 
known. Various methods adopted dur- 
ing the preceding winter when the prob- 
lem had become acute during the 
Ardennes fighting had by March pro- 
duced creditable results, including an 
extensive retraining program for troops 
culled from U.S. Army Air Forces and 
service units, though the Air Forces, in 
particular, was accused of channeling 
into this program only its misfits. 

One aspect of the program was the 
appearance in March of fifty-three pla- 
toons of Negro troops, men who had 
volunteered, often taking reductions in 
grade in the process, to leave their service 
units for the front. In the 12 th Army 
Group the platoons were attached to a 
number of veteran divisions, usually one 
to a regiment, to serve under a white 

3 For details, see the SHAEF file on Operation 
Eclipse. For a convenient summary see Frederick- 
sen, The American Military Occupation, pp. 2-5. 



AT THE END OF MARCH 



335 



lieutenant and platoon sergeant as a fifth 
platoon in a rifle company. In the 6th 
Army Group they were employed as 
provisional companies. In both cases, 
particularly when used as platoons, the 
men performed so creditably that even- 
tually the experience had an impact on 
the Army's traditional policy of employ- 
ing Negroes only in segregated units. 28 
This and the other retraining measures, 
as well as the sharp decline in casualties 
in mobile warfare against a disinte- 
grating foe, had by mid-March spelled 
an end to the replacement problem. 27 

The matter of occupation zones in 
Germany, still troubling France's pro- 
visional head of state in late March, had 
already been fairly well settled before 
the Yalta Conference in February. Ex- 
cept for Berlin, which was to be admin- 
istered on a tripartite basis, the Russians 
were to occupy the region from the Oder 
River westward to the Weser, the British 
that part of northern Germany west of 
the Weser and north of a line from 
Koblenz through Kassel, and the Ameri- 
cans the rest of the Rhineland and south- 
ern Germany. It was at Yalta that the 
question of French participation had 
arisen. Although the conferees had 
agreed to create a French zone from parts 
of the British and U.S. zones, the actual 
boundaries would not be finally assigned 
until 2 May. Drawn mostly from the 
U.S. zone, the French zone resembled an 
hourglass, the top encompassing the Saar- 
Palatinate and the bottom a portion of 
southern Germany next to the Rhine. 28 



28 Ulysses Lee, The Employment of Negro Troops, 
UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II 
(Washington, 1966). ch. XXI. 

21 Ruppenthal, Logistical Support of the Armies 
II, ch. XVII. 

^Pogue, The Supreme Command, pp. 463-65. 



The Plight of the Germans 

By the end of March, Germany was 
as nearly prostrate as any nation in his- 
tory had ever been while still continuing 
to fight. As early as the end of January, 
the Reich Minister for Armament and 
War Production, Albert Speer, had 
reached the conclusion that the war was 
lost; at that time he could supply only 
a quarter of the coal and a sixth of the 
steel that Germany had been using in 
1944. 29 By the 1st of April some small 
cities were as much as 90 percent de- 
stroyed, the capital 75 percent; the 
housing situation was nearly desperate, 
the food supply only relatively less so. 
As Russian armies drove deep into east- 
ern Germany, an already acute refugee 
problem became ever more serious with 
ten million refugees on the move. In 
the west the Rhineland was completely 
lost and the Rhine as a line of defense 
irretrievably compromised. In the east 
Russian armies had overrun almost all of 
East Prussia and Poland, had reached the 
Baltic coast east of Danzig, had con- 
quered part of Czechoslovakia, all of 
Rumania and Bulgaria, and much of 
Yugoslavia and Hungary, and had 
crossed the Oder River to reach a point 
some thirty miles from Berlin. 

Yet the war went on. 

There were many Germans, some in 
high places, who, like Speer, accepted the 
futility of fighting longer, yet in their 
ideas of how to end the war persisted 
in trying to bargain at a time when 
Germany had nothing left to barter. As 
early as mid-January the Reich Foreign 
Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, with- 

28 William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the 
Third Reich (New York: Simon & Schuster, i960), 
p. 1097. 



336 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 




Destruction in the Heart of Wuerzburg 



out Hitler's knowledge had sent emis- 
saries to Sweden and Switzerland to make 
contact with Allied representatives and 
discuss a negotiated peace, but neither 
had been able to establish fruitful con- 
nections. On 25 January the Chief of the 
Army General Staff, Generaloberst Heinz 
Guderian, had urged peace in the west 
so that what was left of the German 
armies could be concentrated against the 
Russians; it earned him only an accusa- 
tion of "high treason" from his 
Fuehrer. 30 In early April representatives 

30 Heinz Guderian, Panzer Leader (New York: 
E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 1952), pp. 401-02, 404-05. 



of the German command in Italy made 
contact with Allied agents in Switzer- 
land, but negotiations led nowhere until 
the last week of the war. 31 

Either in the bomb-damaged Reich 
Chancellery or, increasingly, in the 
Fuehrerbunker fifty feet under the gar- 
den of the chancellery, Adolf Hitler trod 
a narrow path between acknowledging 
defeat and believing in a miracle, be- 
tween sanity and insanity. In February 
only with difficulty had subordinates 

31 For this story, see Ernest F. Fisher, Cassino to 
the Alps, a volume in preparation for the series 
UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II. 



AT THE END OF MARCH 



337 



talked him out of denouncing the 
Geneva Convention, ordering all cap- 
tured airmen shot, and resorting to gas 
warfare. While his nation fell apart, he 
spent long, tedious hours arguing trivial 
details (promotion policy for officers, 
whether to cut down trees in the Tier- 
garten to make an aircraft landing strip) 
or, without regard for realities, lecturing 
and raging at the presumed perversities 
of his underlings ("I am lied to on all 
sides. I can rely on no one. They all 
betray me.") On 19 March, seeming at 
last to accept the inevitability of defeat 
and having determined to bring the en- 
tire temple crashing down with him, he 
directed a scorched earth policy designed 
to turn Germany into a wasteland, an 
order circumvented only by the subter- 
fuge of Albert Speer. Yet in the curious 
little world of delusion he had con- 
structed about himself, the Fuehrer only 
a few days later could share the en- 
thusiastic belief of his propaganda chief, 
Josef Goebbels, that in the same way the 
death of the Czarina had saved Frederick 
the Great in 1762, some miracle would 
happen to set the tenpins of the Third 
Reich upright again. Somehow the 
Grand Alliance between east and west 
was going to fall apart and the Western 
Allies would come obsequiously begging 
to long-suffering Germany to be allowed 
to join the holy war against bolshevism. 32 
The fighting in the west was now al- 

M Hitler's last days have been adequately docu- 
mented in a number of works, all of which have 
drawn on the surviving fragments of the Fuehrer 
Conferences. See, for example, Pogue, The Supreme 
Command; Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third 
Reich; Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny 
(New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947); and 
Felix Gilbert, Hitler Directs His War (New York: 
Oxford University Press, 1950). See also Toland, 
The Last 100 Days, and Cornelius Ryan, The Last 
Battle (New York: Simon 8c Schuster, 1966). 



most devoid of central direction from 
Berlin. The old order to stand fast, no- 
where to give any ground even in quest 
of reinforcements for other sectors, was 
still in effect — the only "strategy." Such 
decisions as Hitler did make were usu- 
ally based on colored daily briefings by 
Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, chief of the 
Armed Forces Operations Staff (Wehr- 
machtfuehrungsstab) , who by this time 
had learned how to phrase his remarks 
to avoid inciting the Fuehrer to rage. 
In any case, the once powerful high com- 
mand was reduced to the spectacle of 
pondering tactical and administrative 
trivialities — when, for example, five tank 
destroyers, the only available reserve, 
might be readied for commitment against 
the Oppenheim bridgehead, or whether 
to send liaison officers to some part of 
the front or another to get the facts on 
the situation. 

Nor was there much more direction at 
the level of the Commander in Chief 
West, Field Marshal Kesselring, for what 
could he do? New to his post, the field 
marshal "felt like a concert pianist who is 
asked to play a Beethoven sonata . . . 
on an ancient, rickety, and out-of-tune 
instrument." 33 Kesselring, who four 
times during the first six weeks of his 
command spoke frankly with Hitler 
about the situation in the west, appar- 
ently was one of the few military men 
who retained the Fuehrer's trust. Each 
time he found Hitler "understanding," 
appreciative of the fact "that the situa- 
tion in the west had deteriorated too far 
to be effectively remedied." At a meeting 
on 15 March Hitler promised an infantry 
division to be transferred from Denmark, 
but that was all except for a nebulous 



Kesselring, A Soldier's Record, p. 305. 



338 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



plan to find enough men somehow to 
create new units. Kesselring's lasting im- 
pression was that Hitler "was literally 
obsessed with the idea of some miracu- 
lous salvation, that he clung to it like a 
drowning man to a straw." 34 

Probably not even Kesselring knew 
the true strength of the German forces 
remaining in the west, but something of 
their condition could be gleaned from 
the fact that the Allied armies, since the 
February beginning of the battle for the 
Rhineland, had taken more than 2 50,000 
prisoners. These, together with killed 
and wounded, the SHAEF intelligence 
staff estimated, amounted to the strength 
of more than 20 full divisions. Although 
the German order of battle showed over 
60 divisions in the west, some were little 
more than divisional staffs, others only 
Kampfgruppen, and probably none at 
anywhere near full strength. They repre- 
sented, according to Allied estimates, the 
equivalent of only 26 complete divisions, 
in marked contrast to Eisenhower's 90 
full-strength divisions. 35 

Partly because German units in the 
north had been afforded a brief respite 
behind the Rhine before the Allies 
crossed and partly because the Twenty- 
fifth Army in the Netherlands had yet 
to be directly engaged, Army Group H 
under General Blaskowitz was in better 
shape than the other two army groups. 
Yet Blaskowitz saw no hope of stemming 
the 21 Army Group's drive from the 
bridgeheads. Noting developments op- 
posite Remagen in the adjacent sector of 
Field Marshal Model's Army Group B, 
Blaskowitz thought it only a matter of a 
day or so before American forces from 

31 Ibid., pp. 311-12. 

38 SHAEF Intelligence Sum 53, week ending 25 
Mar 45. 



that bridgehead would be east of the 
Ruhr, in a position to swing against his 
rear. Goaded by General Blumentritt, 
who on 28 March arrived from the 
Twenty-fifth Army to take the badly 
wounded General Schlemm's place in 
command of the First Parachute Army, 
Blaskowitz went over Field Marshal 
Kesselring's head with what the Com- 
mander in Chief West called a "super- 
erogatory account" of the situation. 

As a result of Army Group B's prob- 
lems, Blaskowitz indicated, the situation 
in Army Group H would soon become 
critical. He wanted authority to with- 
draw his entire force behind the Weser 
River, some 125 miles east of the Rhine. 
Abandoning his two southernmost corps 
(Luettwitz's XLVII Panzer Corps and 
Abraham's LXIII Corps) to fight on in 
the Ruhr with Army Group B, Blumen- 
tritt would withdraw the rest of the First 
Parachute Army across some fifty miles 
of generally flat terrain to the first logical 
delaying position, the Teutoburger 
Wald, a range of low hills extending 
northwest from the eastern fringe of the 
Ruhr, there to cover withdrawal of the 
Twenty-fifth Army from the Nether- 
lands. 39 

This report and request angered both 
Hitler and Kesselring, the former not 
only because of its inherent defeatism 
but because it contained none of the 
psychological niceties to which he had 
become accustomed. Although Kessel- 
ring wanted Blaskowitz replaced, Hitler 
settled instead for sending a former com- 
mander of Army Group H, General 



38 Kesselring, A Soldier's Record, pp. 302-03; 
MSS # B-414 (Geyer); # B-354, Battles Fought 
by the First Parachute Army Between 28 March 
and 9 April 1945 (General der Infanterie Guenther 
Blumentritt). 



AT THE END OF MARCH 



339 



Student, to "assist" Blaskowitz, a calcu- 
lated rebuke to an officer of Blaskowitz's 
high standing in the command structure. 
Blaskowitz was to hold firm while giving 
Student command of a provisional army 
to counterattack southward into the de- 
veloping British-American breakthrough 
in the sector of the First Parachute Army. 

As Kesselring himself recognized, that 
assignment was impossible. Under the 
continuing attacks of the British Second 
and U.S. Ninth Armies, the degeneration 
in Army Group H had progressed too far 
to be reversed with the means at hand. 
Disapproved or not, the withdrawal to 
the Teutoburger Wald was soon to get 
under way. 37 

Field Marshal Model's Army Group B 
was, as Blaskowitz noted, in grievous 
trouble. Its Fifth Panzer Army, com- 
manded now by Generaloberst Josef 
Harpe (General von Manteuffel left on 
8 March for an emergency assignment 
on the Eastern Front) , was tied down 
with the task of defending the east bank 
of the Rhine along the face of the Ruhr; 
the stronger elements of Zan gen's Fif- 
teenth Army had been grouped along 
the northern periphery of the Remagen 
bridgehead to counter an anticipated 
American drive north from the bridge- 
head. Thus Field Marshal Model would 
have little with which to oppose the ac- 
tual American breakout when it came, 
not to the north but to the east and 
southeast. Nor did he have any forces 
with which to strengthen the connection 
between his Army Group B and General 
Hausser's Army Group G to the south, a 
tenuous link that would be quickly 
severed by a combination of the U.S. 



'"Ibid. 



First Army's breakout from Remagen 
and a rapid expansion of the U.S. Third 
Army's Rhine bridgeheads. Army Group 
G was in the worst condition of all. Rent 
asunder by the U.S. Third Army's 
multiple Rhine crossings, the German 
Seventh Army had been hurt anew by 
the American Seventh Army's crossing, 
which also virtually isolated the German 
First Army on the army group's south 
wing. 

It was a somber picture, one in which 
few other than a megalomaniac like 
Adolf Hitler could have seen any hint 
of light. Yet see it Hitler did — or so he 
professed. The battle then developing in 
the east against the Russians along the 
line of the Oder and Neisse Rivers, the 
Germans would win, Hitler insisted, if 
only the Allied armies from the west 
could be held at arm's length for a few 
more weeks. If Kesselring's forces could 
delay long enough, Hitler could form a 
reserve, mustered from all able-bodied 
manpower still uncommitted to the fight, 
to be assembled in the Harz Mountains 
of central Germany. That force, to be 
known as the Twelfth Army., then was 
to come to Kesselring's rescue by coun- 
terattacking through Army Group B's 
sector to split the Allied armies. 38 

A Decision on Berlin 

In the Allied camp, a number of events 
occurring during the month of March 
prompted the Supreme Commander, 
General Eisenhower, to revise his plan 



38 Kesselring, A Soldier's Record, p. 314; MS # 
B-606, The Last Rally — Battles Fought by the 
German Twelfth Army in the Heart of Germany, 
Between East and West, 13 April-7 May 1945 
(Oberst Guenther Reichhelra). 



340 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



for the coup de grace against Germany. 
For the more immediate task, encircling 
the Ruhr, the long-approved stratagem 
of cutting off the industrial region by 
converging thrusts of the First and Ninth 
Armies remained unchanged; but for the 
final thrust beyond the Ruhr, Eisen- 
hower signaled a major change in plan 
that for a time ruffled British-American 
command relations and raised the issue 
of the extent that military decision 
should be influenced by political consid- 
erations. 39 

As early as September 1944, General 
Eisenhower had outlined his intention to 
proceed from the Ruhr to the German 
capital, Berlin, long considered — perhaps 
theoretically or symbolically — the final 
objective in the war against Germany. 
The 21 Army Group, assisted by an 
American army, was to make the main 
effort. Yet at the same time, General 
Eisenhower introduced a reservation. 
Recognizing that the Russians might al- 
ready have taken Berlin by the time 
Allied armies fanned out across Ger- 
many, he suggested that the 21 Army 
Group might take Hannover and the 
north German ports, the 12th Army 
Group the Leipzig-Dresden industrial 
complex of central Germany, and the 
6th Army Group the industrial cities of 
southern Germany. 

By late March 1945 the Red Army 
had yet to reach Berlin. In the bridge- 
head across the Oder River some thirty 
miles from the capital, the Russians had 
paused, presumably to regroup and bring 
up supplies. There seemed little doubt 
that they would renew the drive momen- 



30 This section is based on the annotated account 
of these events in Pogue, The Supreme Command, 
PP- 434-36, 441-47- 



tarily and take the city. Since the closest 
Allied troops were still 275 miles from 
Berlin, the Red Army apparently would 
get there first. 

Once Berlin ceased to be an objective, 
it was relatively easy to find justification 
for shifting the Allied main effort from 
the north to the center, from Mont- 
gomery's 21 Army Group to Bradley's 
12 th. With the addition of the Fifteenth 
Army to handle mop-up and occupation 
duties, the 12 th Army Group was the 
stronger force and could be strengthened 
even more by transferring the Ninth 
Army back to Bradley's command once 
the Ruhr was encircled. The 12 th Army 
Group was also in a position to capitalize 
quickly on the surprise bonus of the 
Rhine crossings at Remagen and Oppen- 
heim, and, by its location in the center, 
was the logical candidate both for link- 
ing with the Russians to split Germany 
in two and for seizing the Leipzig- 
Dresden area, one of the last major in- 
dustrial complexes that would be left to 
the Germans after loss of the Ruhr and 
Silesia. 

As further justification for a shift in 
main effort, some members of the 
SHAEF staff pointed to the possibility 
of a last-ditch Nazi hold-out position ru- 
mored to be under construction in the 
Alps — a National Redoubt. The rumors 
had gained substance the preceding fall 
and of late had been fed by planted in- 
formation from the Nazi propaganda 
chief, Dr. Goebbels. Although some in- 
fluential Germans had earnestly espoused 
the idea of a redoubt, it did not, in fact, 
exist; and although many in Allied — par- 
ticularly British — command and intelli- 
gence circles discounted it entirely, the 
possibility of some form of last-ditch re- 
sistance in the Alps was a factor — though 



AT THE END OF MARCH 



341 



in no sense decisive — in Eisenhower's 
decision to shift his main effort. 40 

General Eisenhower announced his 
new plan on 28 March. Once the Ruhr 
was encircled, Eisenhower stipulated, the 
Ninth Army was to revert to the 12th 
Army Group, whereupon Bradley's 
armies were to make the main offensive 
eastward to link with the Russians. If he 
needed it, Montgomery might have the 
Ninth Army once Bradley reached the 
Elbe; but until that time Montgomery's 
basic assignment was to protect Bradley's 
northern flank while Devers's 6th Army 
Group guarded the southern flank. 

Undoubtedly disappointed, Field Mar- 
shal Montgomery asked permission to 
use the Ninth Army up to the Elbe 
rather than beyond. Eisenhower refused, 
pointing out that Bradley needed control 
of the Ninth Army to complete opera- 
tions in the Ruhr and accomplish relief 
by the Fifteenth Army. There the matter 
might have rested had the issue been 
nothing more than a shift in main effort, 
but it was more. The real issue was 
Berlin. 

Learning of Eisenhower's decision and 
the fact that the Supreme Commander 
had asked the Allied military missions in 
Moscow to tell the Soviet head of state, 
Marshal Josef Stalin, of the change in 
plan, the British Chiefs of Staff protested 
both the decision and Eisenhower's com- 
municating directly with the Soviet chief. 
They asked that Eisenhower's message 
be withheld from Stalin until the Com- 
bined Chiefs of Staff could discuss the 
matter. 

The U.S. Chiefs replied that to hold 



40 On this subject, see a detailed survey by Rodney 
G. Minott, The Fortress That Never Was (New 
York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964) See also 
below, ch. XVIII. 



up General Eisenhower's message would 
be to discredit or at least to lower the 
prestige of a highly successful field com- 
mander. The Supreme Commander was, 
after all, they would rationalize later, 
within his rights in communicating with 
Stalin since the Soviet head of state was 
also the head of the Soviet armed forces. 
As for the decision on Berlin, they would 
be willing to ask General Eisenhower for 
amplification of his plan, but the battle 
for Germany, they believed, had reached 
a point "where the commander in the 
field is the best judge of the measures 
which offer the earliest prospects of de- 
stroying the German armies or their 
power to resist." 41 

Dismayed at this reaction, Prime Min- 
ister Churchill appealed to both Eisen- 
hower and President Roosevelt to 
reconsider. Aside from what he felt was 
an affront to the British forces, he de- 
plored the decision not to go to Berlin: 

I say quite frankly that Berlin remains 
of high strategic importance. Nothing will 
exert a psychological effect of despair upon 
all German forces of resistance equal to 
that of the fall of Berlin. It will be the 
supreme signal of defeat to the German 
people. 

The Russians, Churchill continued, were 
about to overrun the capital of Austria; 
if they also could claim credit for cap- 
turing Berlin, might they not gain an 
undue impression of the extent of their 
contribution to victory, leading them 
into a mood that would raise "grave and 
formidable difficulties" for the future? 42 
Both Mr. Roosevelt and General 
Eisenhower assured Mr. Churchill that 



"Memo by JCS, CCS 805/2, 30 Mar 45, cited in 
Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 442. 

"Msg, Churchill to Roosevelt, 931, 1 Apr 45, 
cited in Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 443. 



342 



THE LAST OFFENSIVE 



they had no intent to disparage British 
contributions to the campaign against 
Germany. Eisenhower went on to ex- 
plain that once Allied forces reached the 
Elbe, he thought it probable that U.S. 
forces would be shifted to the 21 Army 
Group for a drive beyond the Elbe at 
least far enough to seal off the Jutland 
peninsula; but until the nature of the 
opposition in central Germany fully un- 
folded, he deemed it important to keep 
his forces concentrated near the center. 
As for Berlin, if it could be captured, he 
intended to share honors equally be- 
tween British and U.S. forces; but to him 
Berlin had lost too much of its impor- 
tance as a strictly military objective to 
warrant mounting a major effort to seize 
it. 

Disturbed by the alacrity with which 
Marshal Stalin agreed to General Eisen- 
hower's decision to drive for Leipzig in- 
stead of Berlin, the British Chiefs of 
Staff a few days later again asked that the 
decision on Berlin be reconsidered. 
Again the U.S. Chiefs declined. At a 
time when it appeared that Allied troops 
could not possibly beat the Russians to 
the capital, when it was known that any 
ground taken beyond the Elbe would 
have to be relinquished to the Russians 
for the occupation, and when the Allies 
still apparently faced a strong fight in 
the Pacific for which they desired Rus- 
sian assistance, the U.S. Chiefs showed 
no disposition to insist on taking Berlin. 
Clearly brushing aside the political im- 
plications, they noted that "Only Eisen- 
hower is in a position to know how to 
fight this battle, and to exploit to the 
full the changing situation." 43 



"Memo by JCS, CCS 805/5, 6 Apr 45, cited in 
Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 444. 



To the Combined Chiefs of Staff 
Eisenhower explained that he considered 
it much more important to divide the 
Germans by a thrust to Leipzig than to 
concentrate against an objective like Ber- 
lin, which had lost so much of its mili- 
tary importance. "But," he added, 

... I am the first to admit that a war is 
waged in pursuance of political aims, and 
if the Combined Chiefs of Staff should de- 
cide that the Allied effort to take Berlin 
outweighs purely military considerations in 
this theater, I would cheerfully readjust 
my plans and my thinking so as to carry 
out such an operation. 44 

Although seemingly settled, the issue 
arose again. On 8 April Field Marshal 
Montgomery asked to borrow ten U.S. 
divisions for a major thrust by the 21 
Army Group to cut off the Jutland 
peninsula by driving to the Baltic coast 
near Luebeck and to take Berlin. In one 
of his sharper ripostes as Supreme Com- 
mander, Eisenhower responded: "You 
must not lose sight of the fact that during 
the advance to Leipzig you have the role 
of protecting Bradley's northern flank. 
It is not his role to protect your southern 
flank." As for Berlin, he went on, "I am 
quite ready to admit that it has political 
and psychological significance but of far 
greater importance will be the location 
of the remaining German forces in rela- 
tion to Berlin. It is on them that I am 
going to concentrate my attention. Nat- 
urally, if I get an opportunity to capture 
Berlin cheaply, I will take it." 46 

The change in plan, as enunciated on 
28 March, would stand. It was under this 
plan — to encircle the Ruhr and then 



"Eisenhower to Marshall, FWD 18710, 7 Apr 45, 
cited in Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 446. 

46 Eisenhower to Montgomery, 8 Apr 45, cited in 
Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 446. 



AT THE END OF MARCH 



343 



make a main effort with the 12th Army armies, in the meantime, had launched 
Group through central Germany to link the breakout drives from their bridge- 
with the Russians — that the Allied heads over the Rhine. 



CHAPTER XVI 



Reducing the Ruhr 



In the Remagen bridgehead, com- 
manders and troops of the First U.S. 
Army had known since 19 March that 
they would be permitted to break out of 
their bridgehead soon after the 21 Army 
Group had staged its Rhine crossing. 
Since 22 March they had known that the 
breakout attack was to be made on the 
25 th. 1 While tolerating accusations of 
timidity from news correspondents, the 
First Army commander, General Hodges, 
used the wait to advantage by launching 
limited objective attacks to secure key 
roads and terrain designed to speed the 
breakout when the time came. 

The 12th Army Group's orders for the 
breakout reflected the employment both 
General Bradley and General Eisen- 
hower had planned almost from the first 
for the forces in the Remagen bridge- 
head. Between them, Hodges' First Army 
and Patton's Third were to create a 
bridgehead ninety-two miles wide, ex- 
tending from the Sieg River in the north 
to the Main in the south. From that 
lodgment the two armies were to drive 
astride the Lahn River northeast up the 
Frankfurt-Kassel corridor to Kassel; the 
First Army was then to turn northward 
to form the right pincers of a double 
envelopment of the Ruhr. Since the plan 
was originally formulated before Patton 
had achieved any crossing of the Rhine, 



the orders included provision for part 
of the First Army to cross the Lahn to 
help clear the Third Army's half of the 
bridgehead. 2 

Holding the northern rim of the Rem- 
agen bridgehead, where the Germans had 
concentrated their greatest strength in 
the belief a breakout would be aimed 
northward toward the Ruhr, General 
Collins's VII Corps was occupied 
through the 24th in turning back the 
piecemeal armored counterattacks that 
represented the best that the German 
tank expert, General Bayerlein, could 
muster. The corps nevertheless had 
gained the scheduled line of departure 
beyond the Ruhr-Frankfurt autobahn 
whence General Collins was to send his 
own armor eastward, with the Sieg River 
affording left flank protection. General 
Van Fleet's III Corps in the center of the 
bridgehead meanwhile juggled its units 
after relinquishing the southern periph- 
ery of the bridgehead to the incoming 
V Corps, then secured its line of de- 
parture east of the autobahn with a night 
attack that met only crumbling opposi- 
tion. 

General Huebner's V Corps began its 
limited objective attacks on 22 March. 
Aware that the bulk of German armor 
had shifted to the north, nobody ex- 
pected resistance in the south to be reso- 



a See above, ch. XI. 



2 12th AGp Ltr of Instrs 18, 25 Mar 45. 



REDUCING THE RUHR 



345 



lute; neither was anybody prepared for 
an impending German collapse. Close by 
the Rhine a combat command of the gth 
Armored Division crossed the Wied 
River with little difficulty and advanced 
four miles, while the 2d Division's 38th 
Infantry, alongside the armor, covered 
more than eight miles in three days to 
establish a second bridgehead over the 
Wied four miles deep. Both armor and 
infantry could readily have advanced 
even farther with little more effort. 
Huebner's V Corps quite clearly could 
break out at will. 

Having anticipated fairly firm resist- 
ance at the start of the breakout, General 
Hodges had planned the First Army's 
main effort to be made by Van Fleet's 
III Corps, directed southeastward toward 
the Lahn at Limburg; the V Corps would 
mop up the east bank of the Rhine 
down to the Lahn, and there be pinched 
out by Van Fleet's advance and shifted 
into army reserve. The experience of 
the V Corps in its limited objective 
attacks changed the plan. To take ad- 
vantage of the apparent soft spot, Hodges 
shifted the intercorps boundary to swing 
the III Corps northeastward short of 
Limburg, aim Huebner's V Corps at 
Limburg, and provide General Huebner 
with a zone of advance to the northeast 
for what seemed to be a fast-developing 
breakout operation. 3 

The soft spot represented all that was 
left of General Hitzfeld's LXVII Corps, 
southernmost of the three corps under 
General von Zangen's Fifteenth Army. 
That Hitzfeld was down to tattered re- 
mains of some five or six infantry di- 
visions and had no armor was known to 



3 See FUSA Report of Operations, 23 February- 
8 March 1945, pp. 38-41. 



his superiors, but they could provide no 
reinforcement without stripping General 
Bayerlein's LIII